Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Second Edition, Quatrain CVI

This is the first of several linked quatrains which express the same theme: the pain of human existence.


Second Edition:  Quatrain CVI

Oh, if the World were but to recreate,
That we might catch ere closed the Book of Fate,
    And make The Writer on a fairer leaf
Inscribe our names, or quite obliterate!



Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XCVIII

Would but some winged Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
    And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister,  or quite obliterate!


FitzGerald has made considerable changes to this quatrain by the Fifth Edition.   The theme seems to be the same, though.  But, there is a subtle difference which I didn't catch the first time I read them.  The Second Edition was published in 1868, about nine years after the First Edition.  The Fifth came out in 1889, so there was a twenty year gap between the Second and the Fifth Editions.

The subtle difference may simply be an accidental result of the changes in wording (over-reading again on my part), or it may reflect a change in FitzGerald's own world view that took place over that twenty year gap.  In the Second Edition, it seems as though Creation is fixed.  Note that the World has to "recreate" in order for us to catch the Book of Fate before it is "closed."  I understand that to mean Creation or Fate is now fixed and to make any changes we would have to begin again before any changes could be made.

It appears to be a different situation, though, in the Fifth Edition.   He wishes that "some winged Angel ere too late/  Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,"  This suggests to me that Fate is not yet fixed and changes could be made to "yet unfolded Roll of Fate."  The Roll is not yet folded, and therefore different entries could be made.  This seems to me to be a movement away from predestination.  Based on some earlier quatrains this is a change since some quatrains did suggest that this is a predestined world, and we had little to say about our fate.

Another interesting change occurs in the third line.  In the Second Edition, it is The Writer who will Inscribe our names, or quite obliterate!  The reference is to an objective or neutral scribe, while in the Fifth Edition, it is a stern Recorder who records our fate.  In the twenty years between the two editions, the depiction of the one who records our fate has gone from neutral to stern

Of the various themes in the Rubaiyat, this is probably the most despairing.  FitzGerald proposes two options: one would be to have "The Writer on a fairer leaf/ Inscribe our names, and if that is not possible then the Writer should quite obliterate our names from the Roll.  In other words, it would be better if we weren't born. If the " stern Recorder" doesn't change the Roll of Fate, then again the poet/narrator would prefer to be  quite obliterate.  In other words, with life being the way it is, it would be better not to have been born at all.

One question I do have: the responsibility of the Writer and the Recorder.  Do they decide our Fates or do they just follow orders and record them as dictated to them by another higher power?  I can't tell from the quatrains for they do not give a clue, or at least none that I can find.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Dylan Thomas's Cat: Do Not Go Peaceable to That Damn Vet

Do Not Go Peaceable to That Damn Vet

Do not go peaceable to that damn vet,
A cat can always tell a trip is due,
Hide, hide, when your appointment time is set.

Wise cats who watched, and learned the alphabet,
And never let men know how much they knew,
Do not go peaceable to that damn vet.

Young cats who want to keep their claws to whet
On sofa legs, and save their privates, too,
Hide, hide when your appointment time is set.

Sick cats, poor things, whose stomachs are upset,
But hate to eat some evil-smelling goo,
Do not go peaceable to that damn vet.

Old cats who have no wish to sleep just yet,
And plan to live another life or two,
Hide, hide, when our appointment time is set

And though your human sweetly calls his pet
Or rants and raves until his face is blue,
Do no go peaceable to that damn vet,
Hide, hide, when your appointment time is set.

--  Dylan Thomas's Cat --
Henry Beard: Poetry for Cats

I always had trouble finding my cats when it was "vet time.I finally figured it out:  I had gotten into the habit of bringing out the cat carrier from the closet in the morning of a trip to the vet.  When I stopped, I had no problems after that.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ryokan's Irony?


Done begging in a rundown village,
I make my way home past green boulders.
Late sun hides behind western peaks;
pale moonlight shines on the stream before me.
I wash my feet, climb up on a rock,
light incense, sit in meditation.
After all, I wear a monk's robe--
how could I spend the years doing nothing? 

                                                -- Ryokan --

  That last sentence makes me look again at the seven lines preceding it, and I have to wonder about them.  Is he being ironic here?  What, if anything, does this say about a monk's way of living?  Or, about Ryokan?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Minute Meditation


"If real people could cohabit with the creatures of their imagination--say, in a novel--then what sort of children would be the fruit of their union: changelings?"

  -- Lawrence Durrell --
  Constance or Solitary Practices


One of the joys of rereading--discovering little gems anew. This is the germ of the idea that describes part of the charm of  "The Avignon Quintet,"  for several of the characters in Blanford's novel interact with Blanford and  his friends.  Constance, for example, remarks upon meeting Sutcliffe that she was surprised because she thought Sutcliffe was a fictional character.

I wonder how I would react if I met characters from a novel I had read. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Willa Cather: Youth and the Bright Medusa, Pt. 3

Willa Cather
Youth and the Bright Medusa

These are the last two stories in the collection.



"The Sculptor's Funeral"

Prophets are not honored in their home towns and, so it seems, it is also true about sculptors.  Harvey Merrick, a highly respected award-winning sculptor, has died.  His body is  brought back from the East to the small town in Kansas where he was born and raised.  His coffin is accompanied by Steavens, one of  Merrick's students.  They are met at the station by a group of townspeople who take the coffin to the Merrick home.

Steavens is  shocked by Merrick's family, especially the mother.  However, the father utters what must be the understatement of the century:  "He was a good boy, Jim; always a good boy.  He was ez gentle ez a child, and the kindest of 'em all--only we didn't none of us ever understand him."

Later, Steavens joins the townspeople and is dismayed by the way they talk about Merrick.  He was a failure, a disappointment to them all, as they jokingly and gleefully and maliciously  recounted his life there as a child. He never paid attention to where he was, always daydreaming, he wasted his father's money on  book learning,  he drank too much,   One "mourner" commented, "'Where the old man made his mistake was in sending that boy East to school,' said Phelps, stroking his goatee and speaking in a deliberate, judicial tone.  'There was when he got his head full of nonsense.  What Harve needed, of all people, was a course in some first-class Kansas City  business college.'"

Yet, there is one there who speaks up for Merrick and utters his own critique of the town and its inhabitants.

"It's not for me to say why, in the inscrutable wisdom of God, a genius should ever have been called from this place of hatred and bitter waters; but I want this Boston man to know that the drivel he's been hearing here tonight is the only tribute any truly great man could have from such a lot of sick, side-tracked, burnt-dog, land-poor sharks as the here-present financiers of Sand City--upon which town may God have mercy!"


I think Marshall McKann, who appeared in Cather's "The Gold Slipper" would feel comfortable with these people.

========================


"A Death in the Desert"

I found this story, the last in the collection, to be the most complex tale, even though it is far from being the longest.  In Cather's "The Diamond Mine," the theme is the exploitation of the successful performer or artist by family, friends, and various parasites, as they selfishly use the performer to gain their own goals, be it psychological, emotional, or financial.  This story, "A Death in the Desert," tells the other side of the story, the way that some performers use, abuse, and finally abandon those who aid them as they strove to achieve their goals, be it for the art itself, fame, or financial rewards..  


Adriance  Hilgarde is a well-known composer and concert performer.  Everett is his younger brother who is cursed/blessed by his appearance: he resembles Adriance so closely that he can't go anywhere without being mistaken for him.

While stopping in Cheyenne, Wyoming on a business trip, Everette is mistaken for Adriance by Katharine, who becomes quite upset.   The next morning her brother comes to apologize, and it is at this point that Everette recognizes Katharine whom he hasn't seen in many years.  He had fallen in love with her when she was Adriance's student.  Adriance considered her to be the most talented of his pupils, and shortly afterwards, they left for a concert tour which eventually took them to Europe, and that was the last time he saw her.  Now, she was back, suffering from an incurable case of  consumption (TB).

Although he has finished the business that brought him to Wyoming, he stays because "No matter what his mission, east or west, by land or sea, he was sure to find himself employed in his brother's business, one of the tributary lives which helped to swell the shining current of Adriance Hilgarde's.  It was not the first time that his duty had been to comfort, as best he could, one of the broken things his brother's imperious speed had cast aside and forgotten.  He made no attempt to analyse the situation or to state it in exact terms; but he accepted it as a commission from his brother to help this woman to die. "

It isn't that Adriance is an evil or malicious person:  he is just so absorbed in himself that he never notices the way he uses those around him.  When Everett writes him about Katharine,  Adriance writes her a letter "full of confidences about his work, and delicate allusions to their old happy days of study and comradeship"  Everett thought that the "letter was consistently egotistical, and seemed to him even a trifle patronizing, yet it was just what she had wanted." 


 I wasn't sure until the very end as to who the protagonist was:  there are three for which some argument could be made.  The first, Everett Hilgardeis the point-of-view (POV) character, and, most often, the POV is the main character.  The second is Katharine Gaylord, and the title refers to her.  The third, Adriance Hilgarde, is the link that brings Everett and Katharine together, once in the past and now once again.  I would have to go with Adriance, even though he never appears, except through the memory of Everett and Katharine and that one letter. 

  In one sense, this is a variation of the popular plot referred to frequently as the eternal triangle (aka infernal triangle) in which A loves B, B loves C, and C loves A; only in this situation A loves B, B loves C, and C apparently loves C..

The story leaves some questions open:  what does Everett think about his role, going about comforting those injured by his brother?  What does he get out of it?  Why are people so willing to be used by Adriance, even though they get nothing out of it?  Or, do they?

It's a story to come back to again, perhaps after percolating deep down under for a year or so. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Willa Cather: YOUTH AND THE BRIGHT MEDUSA, Pt. 2

Willa Cather
Youth and the Bright Medusa


The following are two more stories found in Cather's collection--Youth and the Bright Medusa



"Paul's Case"

The title provides a clue, for this story can be seen as perhaps a medical case or a psychological case or even a criminal case history.  Paul attempts to recreate himself with his lies about his parentage.  Perhaps he is a foundling, abandoned by rich and powerful parents for some reason.  He spends his time trying desperately to prove to all that he is superior to all: to his teachers, to his fellow students, to all about him.  His life is ruled by his desire to live life the way he thinks life should be lived, with every desire met. 

He steals money from his employer one Friday afternoon, knowing that his theft won't be discovered until Monday.  He leaves Pittsburgh for New York where he registers in at an expensive hotel and goes on a shopping spree for clothing.  He returns to the hotel, rests, and then changes into his new clothing.  It is now dinner time.

"When he reached the dining-room he sat down at a table near a window.  The flowers, the white linen, the many-coloured  wine glasses, the gay toilettes of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating repetitions of the Blue Danube from the orchestra all flooded Paul's dream with bewildering radiance.  When the roseate tinge of his champagne was added--that cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in his glass--Paul wondered that there were honest men in the world at all.  This was what all the world was fighting for, he reflected: this was what all the struggle was about.   .    .    .    .    .  He had no especial desire to know any of these people; all he demanded was the right to look on and conjecture, to watch the pageant.  The mere stage properties were all he contended for."


I must admit that I don't understand Paul, for it seems that he is satisfied just by being able to exist on the periphery of this bright, glittering world.  He does not appear to want to become an active part of it.  Just being able to sit there with the others seems to be sufficient for him.

This story fits the title for Paul is the youth and his dream is the bright and deadly Medusa.

One can surmise that there will not be a happy ending to this tale.

========================


"A Wagner Matinee"
 
A sad story wherein a well-meant gesture goes sadly wrong. 

One morning Clark received a letter from Nebraska.  His Aunt Georgiana had received a small inheritance and was coming to Boston for the settling of the estate.  He wondered what she would make of Boston after being gone for thirty years.  She had been a piano teacher when she met Harold Carpenter who wooed her and took her out to a Nebraska farm.  He himself had gone out there some years ago and worked for his uncle, so he knew what life on the Nebraska prairies was like.

Thinking to be kind, he purchased tickets for a matinee performance of the music of Wagner, but he wondered if perhaps he should forget about the concert.  Eventually he dismissed that thought and they went.   But. . .

"The first number was the Tannhauser overture.  When the horns drew out the first strain of the Pilgrim's chorus, Aunt Georgiana clutched [his] coat sleeve.  Then it was [he] first realized that this for her broke a silence of thirty years.  .  . . and [he] saw again the tall, naked house on the prairie, black and grim as a wooden fortress; the black pond whee I had learned to swim, its margin pitted with sun-dried cattle tracks; the rain gullied clay banks about the naked house.  .  ."   

And he now remembered that "(f)or thirty years [his] aunt had not been farther than fifty miles from the homestead."

While he lived with them she  taught him "scales  and exercises on the little parlour organ which her husband had bought her after fifteen years during which she  had not so much as seen a musical instrument."  Once, when he had spent considerable time trying to learn a favorite piece, she told him  : "Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken away from you."


She said little during the concert, but he often could see tears in her eyes.  When the performance was over, the audience filed out and the performers put their instruments away.  She still sat there quietly, unmoving.  Finally he spoke to her, and he realized just what he had done when she "burst into tears and sobbed pleadingly, 'I don't want to go, Clark, I don't want to go!'  [He] understood.  For her, just outside the concert hall, lay the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs; the tall, unpainted house, with weather-curled boards, naked as a tower; the crook-backed ash seedlings where the dishcloths hung to dry; the gaunt, moulting turkeys picking up refuse about the kitchen door."

John Keats once said:

"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
from  Endymion



But, what happens when that "thing of beauty" is lost or taken away?  What happens to that joy?


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Minute Meditation

 Today is the birthday of Thomas Mann, the author of one of my top ten favorite novels:  The Magic Mountain.  
 
 
"Music awakens time, awakens us to our finest enjoyment of time."
-- Thomas Mann --
The Magic Mountain
 
 
I would add this: Music is the Voice of Time.  


 

 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gregory Benford: The Berlin Project

Gregory Benford
The Berlin Project


 The Berlin Project is an alternate universe tale that up to a certain point reads more like a docudrama, a depiction of real events that have been filled out in places by the writer.  The first part takes place in the days before WWII, of the beginnings of what was to become the Manhattan Project.   The movement of the scientists from the first implications of what "splitting the atom" to the realization that this could be a source of power and a destructive weapon unlike anything possible at that day.  There was at the same time the fear, supported by rumors and certain actions by German scientists, that Germany was also going along the same path.  Eventually it was decided to try to beat the Germans to the bomb.

Research then suggested that U235 would be the best for such a bomb.  The project then came to a decision point: what method would be most effective in separating out U235 from U238?  It is at this point, that the novel moves, at least as far as I can tell, completely into the alternate universe.  In the real world, it was decided to use the gas diffusion method, whereas in The Berlin Project, the powers-that-be went with the centrifuge method.

In the Afterword to the novel, Benford says that even by the '60s we knew that the centrifuge method would have been the best choice.  The decision in favor of the gas diffusion method  resulted in a delay of a year or more in developing the bomb, which then had little effect on the war in Europe.  The decision in the novel to use the centrifuge method gave the Allies the bomb a year earlier; in fact the bomb was ready just before the Normandy invasion.  This changed the outcome of the war.

I felt, to some extent that the novel had two parts.  The first, as I mentioned above, reminded me of a docudrama as it had considerably more detail leading up to the production of the bomb than I would normally expect in an alternate history tale.  What happens after the production and use of the first bomb is similar to what I usually find in an alternate history--a wide divergence from the events of the real world.   The detailed account of the scientific struggles to produce the bomb is over and is followed by a more action-oriented story and speculation as to the long-term effects of its use in the other world.

In the Afterword,  Benford tells us that most of the characters in the novel were real, including Karl Cohen, the POV character, who happens to be his father-in-law.  Considerable information obviously came from him.  In addition to physicists and mathematicians, other real people appear or are mentioned: James Benford (Benford's father was in the army during WWII) who appears in a walk-on role, as do these people who would be familiar to some, I suppose--Cleve Cartmill (author of a story that got the FBI interested), Anson McDonald (better known as Robert Heinlein, who also was the author of a story that got the FBI interested), John W. Campbell (who published both stories), Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, and Arthur C. Clarke.

And, at one point in the novel, a character remarks: "tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun."   Those familiar with the work of Alfred Bester will recognize this.

Overall I found it a very interesting read.  While the details of the research and succeeding struggle to produce the bomb did not happen that way in our world, it gave me more of an idea of what those efforts were like, and also a closer look at the politics and in-fighting that tool place within the Manhattan Project, something I had never heard of before.

As I mentioned above, Benford provides an 18 page afterward  with a brief discussion of  the major events as it happened in the real world, and a brief biography of the major characters in the work.  Benford says that several of the characters are still alive today.  He also points out the irony of the development of the bomb in that many of the important scientists in the Manhattan Project were refugees from Europe, fleeing the Nazis. 

If you have read a number of novels and short stories by Greg Benford, I think you will be surprised by this one.  It's not like anything I have read by him so far.


Friday, June 2, 2017

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain CV




Second Edition:  Quatrain CV

Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse --if dimly, yet indeed reveal'd,
     Toward which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field! 


Fifth Edition: Quatrain  XCVII
Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse --if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd,
     To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field! 


FitzGerald made only minimal changes to this quatrain over the next three editions.  He added a comma in the fifth edition after "indeed," but that might have simply been adding one that had been left out in the second edition.  The other change was the substitution  of  "To" for "Toward" in the third line.  I think "To" makes it more specific as "Toward" suggests only moving in that direction, but not necessarily that being the destination.

Again, this quatrain brings up the theme that we don't know where we are going and laments that we can't even get a glimpse.  Robert Frost expresses the same idea in his poem "For Once, Then, Something." 




For Once, Then, Something

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven, godlike,
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths--and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.


The mystery of existence has tormented and bedeviled the human race for thousands of years. This has brought about the various religious traditions, each with their own unique answer.  Each of these answers have their own adherents, but no answer to date has been shown to be satisfactory to the human race as a whole, except, of course, to its followers.

 Do I have an answer?  No.  But, like Khayyam and Frost, I keep looking and hoping.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Walt Whitman: In Memoriam-- the defeated

I was surprised to read this poem by Walt Whitman.

18

With music strong I come, with my cornets and my drums,
I play not marches for accepted victors only,  I play marches for conquer'd and slain persons.

Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.

I beat and point for the dead,
I blow through my embouchures my loudest and gayest for them.

Vivas to those who have fail'd!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!

And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known!

-- Walt Whitman--
"Song of Myself"  from Leaves of Grass


These are the forgotten ones, the ones who were defeated, those who, if they were remembered, would be remembered as failures.  I don't think I've ever encountered another poem that remembered  those who were defeated.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Chaim Potok: Two novels

Chaim Potok
The Chosen
The Promise 


One of the reasons I belong to several book discussion groups is that I get an opportunity to read and discuss works that I probably would not read on my own, either because I have never heard of the book or the author or because the book or author didn't sound interesting at that time.  I had heard of Chaim Potok but not in such a way as to suggest that I might be interested in reading him.

Several months ago,  Chaim Potok''s The Chosen was the selection of one of the discussion groups.  I was so impressed that I immediately borrowed the sequel, The Promise, from the library.  At the end of the year, one of the discussion groups always asks the same question: What new authors have impressed you the most this past year?  If that question were asked today, I would say Chaim Potok.

The comments about the two novels will be brief as I think I need to reread them to be able to stand back and view them somewhat objectively.

The place is Brooklyn and the time is during WWII.

The Chosen:
Reuven, the POV character, grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family.  His father was a highly respected scholar and teacher.  Reuven was free to choose his life's work, and he decided to become a rabbi.

Danny grew up in an Hasidic household and his father was a rabbi with a devoted following.  Danny actually was groomed to become the leader after his father had either retired or died, but he had different ideas.

Reuven and Danny met through a baseball game in which Danny injured Reuven and almost cost him his vision in one eye.   They became close friends, in spite of  Danny's father who believed that the Hasidic Jews were the only true Jews and those who were not Hasidic were followers of Satan, or at least dupes working for Satan.   Another problem was that Reuven's father was an outspoken Zionist while Danny's father hated the Zionists because they wanted to set up a secular Israel, which went against the word of the Lord, as they interpreted it.



The Promise:
This novel takes place several years later.  Reuven and Danny are both well along in their struggle to achieve their goals.  Reuven is finishing up his studies to become a rabbi, in spite of opposition to him from one of his teachers.  The opposition comes primarily from a Hasidic rabbi who has survived the concentration camps and has emigrated to the US.  His experiences in the camp has only made him more intolerant of those who disagree with his views, and he works especially hard to block Reuven,  again partially because of Reuven's father and partially because he is terrified by the ways Reuven discusses and interprets the Torah, ways which Reuven learned from his father.

Danny is finishing up his course of study to become a  clinical psychologist and is now an intern at a psychiatric institution.  One of his patients is a young boy whom Reuven brought to him.  Reuven had met the boy through his friendship with the boy's cousin, Rachel.

The major problem for both is the struggle between the old ways and the new.  Reuven uses but does not accept completely the historic method of Talmudic exegesis,  just as Danny, while highly impressed with Freudian psychoanalytic techniques and theory, does not accept all of it.  Both select what they feel fits them and their unique situations.

The novels constitute a fascinating tale of two boys growing up in an environment  I know little about.  Both novels are filled with rich details regarding Jewish rituals, beliefs, joys, and sorrows.   One of the surprises, although it shouldn't have been, was the rupture between the Hasidim and all other Jews.  But, fundamentalists, regardless of their beliefs, are much alike, as Eric Hoffer points out in his book, The True Believer.   They alone have the Truth, and all who disagree are traitors or heretics and hated by God. 

Chaim Potok is now on my Search List, and I will be looking for more of his writings.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Minute Meditation




Language is the stuff of the imagination.  The imagination is the creative aspect of language.  It enables us to use language to its highest potential.  It enables us to realize a reality beyond the ordinary, it enables us to create and to re-create ourselves in story and literature.  It is the possible accomplishment of immortality.

-- N. Scott Momaday --
from  The Man Made of Words

Can we imagine anything without words?  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: Monsieur or The Prince of Darkness

Lawrence Durrell
Monsieur or Prince of Darkness
Book 1 of  "The Avignon Quintet"  (aka The Quincunx)


Please do not expect an organized, coherent, illuminating post on this work; instead, you will find some random, chaotic ramblings about a work I am fascinated by.  It is probably this fascination that keeps me from stepping back and objectively looking at Monsieur or The Prince of Darkness.

I have now finished Lawrence Durrell's Monsieur or The Prince of Darkness, the first book in his "Avignon Quintet."  This is a reread, but it's been some time since I last read it, and therefore I remember little aside from the general overall structure of the Quintet.


The title can be misleading.  Monsieur is ambiguous for it could refer to any man, but the subtitle clarifies it.  There are those who believe that to say the devil's name out loud will act as a summons and the devil will appear.  Therefore, to prevent this, certain agreed upon circumlocutions are used, and  "Monsieur" is one of them.  However, the rest of the title, The Prince of Darkness, makes it very clear who is meant because that is one of the devil's titles, along with The Prince of Lies and The Lord of Flies. 

My overall reaction was that of meeting an old and familiar friend, one very comfortable to be with.  This, of course, is strange because I remember little of the book so far.  I think that familiar,  comfortable feeling comes from just having recently finished his "Alexandria Quartet.   As I turned the pages of Monsieur, certain similarities came to mind between it and Justine,  the first book in the "Alexandria Quartet."

To begin with, the first novels of the two sets, Monsieur and  Justine, are first person narratives, and, therefore, we will see all from that limited viewpoint.  Of course, one significant difference is that we don't learn the name of the narrator until the second book in the Quartet, while we learn the narrator's name on the first page of the first book in the Quintet.

Both works include considerable flashbacks, works involving memories as they intrude upon and influence the present.  Characters in both are mentioned with little or no introductory information as to who they are and why they are important.  That will be revealed later, sometimes much later.  In both, within the first three pages, the reader learns that someone has died, and that is all that the reader is told.  That this person must be important in some way is suggested by being mentioned so early in the work.

In Monsieur, several of the characters are members of the diplomatic corp of France and England, or are attached in some way to French and English embassies.  This is also true of characters in Justine.

Again, in each work, a novelist is mentioned and quoted frequently.  But, again, it is later that the reader is given more information about the writer and his relationship with the narrator.  And in both novels, that writer is dead at this point in the novel.

Alexandria, the City, is a significant character in the Quartet, so important that the human inhabitants seem to be only puppets controlled by the city.

                         " 'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
                           Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
                                Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
                            And one by one back in the Closet lays."
                                           -- The Rubaiyat:  Quatrain XLIX  
                   
In this case, read Alexandria for "Destiny."  I am only guessing about Avignon at this point, but the treatment of the city suggests that it too will be an important character throughout the work.


Because of the above, I wasn't too surprised to find myself, along with many of the characters, in Alexandria at the beginning of the second part of Monsieur.  




SPOILERS

However, there exists a complication which I haven't mentioned yet.  The structure of this, the first book, is a novel-within-a-novel.  And, this we don't find out until the last chapters, when we suddenly emerge out of the internal novel into the external novel, or the frame.  Actually, it isn't much of a frame as the frame only appears at the very end of this book.  The internal novel is also called Monsieur, which illustrates the link between the "two" novels. 

In the last few chapters, we meet Aubrey Blanford, who claims to have written  the internal Monsieur.  Future volumes will then tell the story of Blanford's life and his relationships with his wife, his friends, and relatives.  In those volumes we will see how Blanford changed and modified what he knows about the people and events of  his life into the characters of the internal novel.

After finishing the first volume, it appears as though this is a novel about writing a novel.  And no, it isn't dismal at all.  I dislike those sorts of novels, but Durrell does it so well that I really don't notice it.  Perhaps my dislike for this meta-fictional cliche is the result of finding that it is so often poorly done, and that may be my argument with it.

One more note:  sometimes "The Avignon Quintet" is called "The Quincunx."   A quincunx is a landscaping feature of five trees.  Four of the trees are placed at the corners of a square, while the fifth tree is placed exactly at the center.  The first book of the quintet, Monsieur, is placed at the center with the other four at the corners, a suggestion of the relationship among the five novels. 

I now regret only waiting so long to revisit "The Avignon Quintet."


Monday, May 15, 2017

Willa Cather: YOUTH AND THE BRIGHT MEDUSA, Pt. 1


Willa Cather
Youth and the Bright Medusa
short stories

The title is a bit deceptive, for it isn't just about youth.  The eight short stories feature artists, or those who are closely connected in some way to artists,  in several of the arts.  The stories begin with those who are just beginning their careers in the arts while subsequent tales are of older artists until the end when the last couple of tales feature death, either of the artist or of someone closely connected to an artist.
============================


"Coming, Aphrodite!"

The two artists in this tale are Eden Bower and Don Hedger.  They are early in their careers, she a singer and he a painter, and they live on the same floor in an old apartment house.  Nature does as expected when two young and unattached people live next door.  However, all does not go smoothly for they have differing ideas and goals in mind.  As a singer, she courts her audience and, seeks to please them by giving them what they want.  She assumes that Don feels the same way and arranges appointments with a very popular painter and also an art broker who has been very successful in marketing the work of other artists.  His reaction is not what she expected.

 "'I know exactly what it's like,'  he said impatiently. 'A very good department-store conception of a studio.  It's one of the show places.'

'Well, it's gorgeous, and he said I could bring you to see him.  The boys tell me he's awfully kind about giving people a lift, and you might get something out of it.'

Hedger started up and pushed his canvas out of the way.   'What could I possibly get from Burton Ives?  He's almost the worst painter in the world; the stupidest, I mean.'"

Hedger then explains:  "'. . . I work to please nobody but myself.'

'You mean you cold make money and don't'?  That you don't try to get a public?'

'Exactly.  A public only wants what has been done over and over.  I'm painting for painters,--who haven't been born.'"



Two different worlds.  .  .

=============================



"The Diamond Mine"

The diamond mine of the title is not a place, but a person.   The narrator of the tale tells us--

"Only a few days before, when I was lunching with some friends at Sherry's, I had seen Jerome Brown come in with several younger men, looking so pleased and prosperous that I exclaimed upon it.

'His affairs,'  some one explained, 'are looking up.  He's going to marry Cressida Garnet.  Nobody believed it at first, but since she confirms it he's getting all sorts of credit.  That woman's a damned diamond mine.'"


And Jerome Brown is not the only one who sees her that way.  Unfortunately her family agrees: "The truth was that all the Garnets, and particularly her two sisters, were consumed by an habitual, bilious, unenterprising envy of Cressy."

And now after Cressy had struggled for twenty years to achieve her preeminent position among singers ". . . they expected Cressida to make them equal sharers in the finer rewards of her struggle."

And, Cressida hadn't any better luck with her four husbands, either.

======================



"A Gold Slipper"

"Marshall McKann followed his wife and her friend Mrs. Post down the aisle and up the steps to the stage of the Carnegie Music Hall with an ill-concealed feeling of grievance.  Heaven knew he never went to concerts,  and to be mounted upon the stage in this fashion, as if he were a 'highbrow' from Sewickley, or some unfortunate with a musical wife, was ludicrous.  A man went to concerts when he was courting, while he was a junior partner.  When he became a person of substance he stopped this sort of nonsense."

This "sort of nonsense" happened to be a recital by Kitty Ayrshire.  Since all tickets had been sold, McKann had decided the concert was off and made reservations on the train for New York City.  Unfortunately for him, his wife's friend, a devoted admirer of Kitty Ayrshire, had found some available tickets on stage.   He was trapped, but he would still have time, if there were no encores, to make his train.

As he was so close to her on stage, Kitty Ayrshire noticed he was unhappy and once caught him "yawning  behind his hand."  She soon realized there was little she could do to please him.


As it turned out, there was only one encore because she also had to be in New York that night.   Of course, coincidences do happen in the real world, so it was inevitable that McKann discovered that he had to share a state-room with Kitty Ayrshire.

It was a strangest journey McKann had ever taken, for Kitty Ayrshire had noticed his displeasure during her performance and she wanted to know just what made him unhappy.  The ensuing conversation reveals that the McKanns of the world are insensitive to anything that goes beyond the practical and the profitable.  All the arts, including singing, happen to be just so much nonsense, a waste of time.  Since he has no appreciation for the "fluffy-ruffles people" and what they do, he assumes that those who claim to appreciate the arts, music for example, really know nothing about music and only claim to enjoy it because "it's the proper thing to do."  But, he is a "hard-headed business man" and has no interest in such nonsense.  And he maintained his opinion throughout their conversation.

But, he may not be as hard-headed as he thinks he is.

=============================

"Scandal"

This story and "A Gold Slipper" are a bit unusual, for they both feature Kitty Ayrshire.  The other six have no characters in common.


Kitty has a protege, one whose career she is attempting to promote.   One day he comes to her and says he has a chance to perform at a house party for a rich businessman, but only if she will agree to accompany him. As it is an excellent opportunity to become known among the wealthy in NY, Kitty agrees, even though she normally does not perform at private parties.  When she arrives, she finds that the people treat her very familiarly, as if they are all well acquainted with her, though she knows none of them. As the performance and the evening progress, she begins to feel trapped, and she wonders if she even will be allowed to leave.  Finally, almost panic-stricken, she runs from the house and the strangely-acting company.

It is only some time later, that a friend tells her of a story from several years ago, that supposedly involved the business man and her.
  
This story is more about the way fans or admirers seem to believe they own in some way a performer or a celebrity.  Because of this sense of ownership, they feel they can use a performer or celebrity to enhance their own stature and position among others, even to the extent of stealing their identities.  They have no concern about the effect their behavior will have on their victims.


To be continued .  .  .

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Minute Meditation


To really appreciate a place or time----to extract the poignant essence of it--one should see it in the light of a departure, a leavetaking.  

-- Lawrence Durrell --
from Livia, Book 2 of  The Avignon Quintet

Is this true?  If so, it's sad that one can only appreciate a time or a place when one leaves it. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Wallace Stevens: "The Poems of Our Climate"

Wallace Stevens is a very unique and perplexing poet, or so he seems to me.   Some of his poems are straightforward while others force me to struggle to gain even a glimmer of his point.  Some grab me immediately while others move me not at all.  And this one?



The Poems of Our Climate
                     
                               I 
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations.  The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow.  A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations--one desires
So much more than that.  The day itself
is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

                             II 
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one's torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than world of white and snowy scents.

                                III   
There would still remain the never-ending mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

-- Wallace Stevens --
from Wallace Stevens: The Collected Poems


I see a strong element of  Eastern religious, aesthetic or cultural traditions.  The water, the bowl, the flowers create an  image that reminds me of many Japanese paintings: very simple,  only a few items, uncluttered, with light being important.

While my knowledge of Buddhism is minimal and incomplete, I think its main theme is that if one removes all desires, to want nothing, even the need to remove all desires, one  would free oneself from the world's pains.  That seems to be the point of the first stanza.

Yet, in the second stanza  

Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than world of white and snowy scents.

It is the ego, the I, that delights in variety and desires.  It would reject that peace of the simple and uncluttered life for what?  The third stanza seems to answer that question:

The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.


Is this a poem that reflects the difficulty and the obstacles to enlightenment or is it an outright rejection of that way of life?

 

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Time to Die?

Generally speaking, killing another human is banned by most societies and religions.  There are exceptions of course--self-defense or defense of someone else. War also is another exception.  Murder is considered to be one of the most serious crimes or sins one can commit.  However, it is also true that various states and religions have reserved the right to kill another human being for themselves.  Executing someone for various crimes or heresy has been and still is common today, although it is gradually going out of favor among various countries, permanently I hope.

As I mentioned, execution has been prescribed for a variety of crimes and religious unorthodoxy, but so far I have yet to find any society or religion that has decreed age to be a crime requiring execution, except, that is, in literature.    And,  I hope it remains so, for I am nearing 80, and therefore a prime candidate.

Following are accounts of several fictional works in which age becomes a crime.




Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, and Philip Massinger
The Old Law: a new way to please you, a comedy


The Old Law is a seventeenth century English play which is set in a mythic Greece.   Evander, the Duke of Epire, has issued a decree.  Any man reaching the age of eighty and any woman at the age of sixty shall be executed by the state.  The main plot, involving Duke Evander, his decree, and the effect on his court, comes from a story found in  "a version of The Seven Sages or The Seven Wise Masters of Rome translated from the Greek by the medieval monk Jean de Hauteseille" sometime around 1200 AD..



The Law: 
.  .  . that every man living to
Fourscore years, and women to threescore, shall than
Be cut off as fruitless to the republic,
And law shall finish what nature lingered at. 


There were those who argued that this sweeping law mandated the death of many innocent people, while those supporting the law (the young who are awaiting their parents' death and therefore their inheritance) argued in return:

What man lives to fourscore and woman to three
That can die innocent.


The wording of the law:

That all men living in our dominions of Epire in their decayed nature to the age of fourscore, or women to the age of threescore, shall on the same day be instantly put to death, by those means and instruments that a former proclamation had to this purpose, through our said territories dispersed. 


The rationale for the law:

That these men, being past their bearing arms to aid and defend their country, past their manhood and livelihood to propagate any further issue to their posterity, and, as well, past their counsels (which overgrown gravity is now run into dotage) to assist their country; to whom, in common reason, nothing should be so wearisome as their own lives; as, it may be supposed, is tedious to their successive heirs, whose times are spent in the good of their country, yet, wanting the means to maintain it, are like to grow old before their inheritance born to them come to their necessary use.  For the women, for that they were never defense to their country, never by counsel admitted to the assist of the government of their country, only necessary to the propagation of posterity, and, now, at the age of three score, be past that good and all their goodness;  it is thought fit, then, a quarter abated from the more worthy member, [they] be put to death as is before recited; provided that, for the just and impartial execution of this our statute, the example shall first begin in and about our court, which ourself will see carefully performed, and not for a full month following extend any further into our dominions.  Dated the sixth of the second month at our Palace Royal in Epire.




THE PLOT:

Cleanthes:  a courtier who loves his father,  claims that his father died shortly before his 80th birthday.  He has set up a phony funeral ritual.

Simonides:  a courtier who joyfully handed his father over to the executioner and is now looking forward to enjoying his inheritance.  He also searches around for those who violate the decree.



Subplot:

The cook, the baker, the tailor, and the butler have searched the birth records, looking for rich widows who are very close to their 60th birthday.  They plan to woo and marry them and then wait for their 60th birthday when they will become rich widowers.  Gnotho, the clown,  has a different plan for he is married.  He has persuaded the clerk to change his wife's birth year so that his wife now has only a a very short time instead of a few years of life. The title page of the book that contained this play lists this as a Comedy, so all's well that ends well.




= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Several centuries later, also in England, we find the following:

Anthony Trollope:
The Fixed Period, a novel
published in 1882,

Anyone who has read The Old Law and The Fixed Period will recognize a strong similarity between the two, especially in the rationale given for the law.  According to the Introduction, Trollope had definitely read The Old Law in 1776, just six years before his novel was published. 

Anthony Trollope's novel, The Fixed Period, is set on the island of Britannula, a former colony of England which has been granted its independence.  Shortly after gaining freedom, the legislature, under the guidance of  Neverbend, its prime minister, passed a law decreeing the death of men and women who reach the age of  67.

The  rationale for the legislation:

". . . it consists altogether of the abolition of the miseries, weakness, and faineant imbecility  of old age by the prearranged ceasing to live of those who would otherwise become old.  Need I explain to the inhabitants of England, for whom I chiefly write, how extreme are those sufferings, and how great the costliness of that old age which is unable in any degree to supply its own wants.


The arguments presented are the same as those provided in The Old Law.  Old people should be killed to prevent the sufferings and infirmities of being old.  The second reason is the financial burden they pose for society and to their relatives.  Prime Minister Neverbend goes on to argue that the young "should be nourished in order that they may do good work as their time shall come.  But for whose good are the old and effete to be maintained amid all these troubles and miseries?"

"It is self-evident that at sixty-five a man has done all that he is fit to do.  He should be troubled no longer with labour, and therefore should be troubled no longer with life."

At the end, the legislature decreed the construction of comfortable dwellings, called the college.
Those men and women who reach the age of sixty-seven shall go to the college and live there " . . .and that before their sixty-eighth birthday they should have departed."


THE PLOT:

Years have passed, and now the first person to reach the age of sixty-seven is about to move to the college. It just happens to be Gabriel,  Neverbend's best friend.  Gabriel now has second thoughts about the law and tries to extend the remaining time he has left.  Neverbend is very upset because he believes Gabriel should be proud to be the first one in the world to profit from his forward-thinking  law.   Meanwhile, word has reached England about the legislation and that it is about to be implemented.  England responds by sending its most advanced battleship.  The novel focuses on Neverbend's dismay at the inability of many of his fellow citizens' to see the marvelous advantages of his law.   The battleship has arrived, and those aboard are about to play a role in the drama.   There's also a minor romantic subplot. 

We generally admire those who show persistence in refusing to surrender their beliefs in the face of opposition.  Fortitude is a virtue, and it is honored by most.  However, the downside is that the belief that its holder adamantly holds to can be evil as well as virtuous.  Neverbend himself wonders if his persistence is based more on the need to make a mark that will resound to his honor and glory long after he is dead, but he dismisses such thoughts as being unworthy of him and his grand idea.  Perhaps he should spend more time thinking about his motivation.



 = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Jack London
"The Law of Life"
a short story published in 1901,


My third example is a short story by Jack London.  Perhaps I should call it a short-short story, for it is only four pages long.   Although much shorter than the previous two works, London makes his point, plainly and simply.   The setting seems to be the far North.   Old Koskoosh is a member of a group of  Inuit or Eskimos.  It is not clear since London provides no clues.  We are told that Old Koskoosh is blind and can no longer help provide food for his group.  He is a drain on their limited resources.  His people are breaking camp now and moving on.  They will leave some firewood there for him.

His son comes to him..

"The tribesmen hurry.  Their bales are heavy and their bellies flat with lack of feasting.  The trail is long and they travel fast.  I go now.  It is well?"

"It is well.  I am as a last year's leaf, clinging lightly to the stem.  The first breath that blows, and I fall.   My voice is become as an old woman's.  My eyes no longer show me the way of my feet, and my feet are heavy, and I am tired.  It is well."

Although the issue, the productivity of the individual, is the same as in the first two works, there are major differences between London's story and the other works.  In the first place, there is no arbitrary set age as in the play and the novel; the decision of the group results solely from Koskoosh's condition.  He is blind; he will require someone to care for him on the trip.  He is unable to bring in food; he reduces the food available for those who can hunt and for the children who will be productive in the years to come.

Secondly, the drain upon the group in the first two stories would not be sufficiently serious  to threaten the group's survival: the increase in taxes for each individual would be minimal, whereas the cost to the group in London's story would be far more threatening to the group's existence.  In the harsh conditions in which they live, every one must provide if the group is to survive.

Thirdly, it is not an arbitrary bit of legislation imposed upon the group.  It is part of the group's traditions that go back many generations.  Koskoosh can remember old men and women who were left behind in the past when they too could no longer work to help the group survive.  This is a part of life, whose only law is to perpetuate the group.  That's why in the previous stories, there were Runners, those who protested against the law.   In this tale,  Koskoosh  says, "It is well." 


=======================================


William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Logan's Run, a novel
first published in  1967

Because of overpopulation,  the legislature passed a law limiting births.  The younger generation revolted, and the result was "the little war" between the generations.   The younger generation won and passed their own law to handle the problem of overpopulation:  death for all on their 21st birthday.  But, as in the first two stories, there were some objected and they became Runners.  An agency was created to handle this problem, the Sandmen.  Their task was to track down and execute the Runners on the spot.

Logan was a Sandman, and he had no difficulty catching and executing with Runners.  However, when he reached 21, the situation became a bit more complicated, and he then became a Runner (perhaps).

THE PLOT:

Logan is on the run and searching for a mythical place called Sanctuary, the goal for all Runners.  Even after he has left the city, he finds others living outside, something the city dwellers thought impossible.      

This is an action-oriented tale, which the title makes clear.  There is no real discussion of the principles involved.  It is also far more unbelievable than the previous three works.   Machinery will break down, especially if it's unattended.  And essentially, the society in this tale does nothing and knows nothing about the mechanisms which support their idyllic way of life.  The only ones who do work of any sort are the Sandmen, and they are executioners.  I doubt any society could exist for any length of  time on that foundation.


Some General  Comments 

The Old Law and The Fixed Period are satirical: the sometimes arbitrariness of laws and the impatience of the young with the older generation.  Or, so it seems to me.   Greed and desire for power seem to be the main motivation for the actions of most in these two works.  Few come out looking well in them.  In The Fixed Period it seems as though those who voted for the law were looking forward to gaining their inheritance and power earlier than expected, but they didn't look any farther into the future to when they approached their own mid 60s. 

Logan's Run struck me as a typical tale of the "man-on-the-run" genre.  As usual, it features someone who has committed a crime or accused of committing one and who is desperately trying to escape the authorities.  This plot is inserted into the futuristic setting, which makes it an SF story.  I suspect the real interest of the tale lies in its man-on-the-run element, rather than any SF elements it may have. 

Jack London's "The Law of Life" is, by far, my favorite of the four.  It has a reality to it that is inescapable.  It is a harsh rule that's a necessary part of survival in a harsh landscape.  It is not an arbitrary law that is imposed, but a longstanding tradition that goes back generations.  Koskoosh is blind, he is a drain on the meager resources of the community.  Koskoosh knows this: "It is well."   


 

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain XCIX

Quatrain XCIX links back to the previous quatrain, especially the last two lines of that Quatrain:  And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,/By some not unfrequented Garden-side.



Second Edition:  Quatrain XCIX

Whither resorting from the vernal Heat
Shall Old Acquaintance Old Acquaintance greet,
     Under the Branch that leans above the Wall
To shed his Blossom over head and feet. 


This quatrain was removed and does appear in the Fifth Edition.  Just why he removed it is not known.  However, Quatrains XCIIIX and XCIX are prophetic, according to an anecdote related by one of Khayyam's pupils, Khwajah Nizami:

"I often used to hold conversations with my teacher, Omar Khayyam, in a garden; and one day he said to me, "My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it.'  I wondered at the words he spake, but I knew that his were no idle words.  Years after, when I chanced to revisit Naishapur, I went to his final resting place, and lo! it was just outside a garden, and trees laden with fruit stretched their boughs over the garden wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the stone was hidden under them."

 from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Illustrations by Edmund Dulac
Garden City Books  



What's a bit unusual in this quatrain occurs in line two where "Old" is capitalized.  That "Acquaintance" is capitalized is not unusual for FitzGerald usually capitalizes nouns, but this is the only time, as far as I can remember, that an adjective was capitalized.  For example, "vernal,"  an adjective in the first line is in lower case.  I don't know if this is true for other readers, but the first thought that entered my mind when I read "Old Acquaintance" was of Robert Burns' first lyric to his very popular song that appears every New Year's Eve: "Auld Lang Syne.   The problem, of course, is that Burns wrote "auld acquaintance,"  not "old acquaintance."

Just a thought. 





Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Minute Meditation


Some ride in palanquins
Some bear palanquins:
Some weave sandals
For palanquin bearers

                   -- Anon --
from Japanese Proverbs


It seems to me that the poem refers to three classes of society: those supported by society, those who support society, and those who accommodate the supporters.











"A palanquin is a covered litter, usually for one passenger. It is carried by an even number of bearers (between two and eight, but most commonly four) on their shoulders, by means of a pole projecting fore and aft. The word is derived from the Sanskrit palyanka, meaning bed or couch."
-- Wikipedia Definition --

Sunday, April 23, 2017

N. Scott Momaday: on stories

Another quotation from N. Scott Momaday on storytellers and storytelling.  I think there are some ideas expressed in them that wouldn't be accepted favorably by modern critics, and, perhaps, by some not-so-modern critics and scholars. . 



  Stories are composed of words and of such implications as the storyteller places upon the words.  The choice of words, their arrangement, and their effect are by and large determined by the storyteller.  The storyteller exercises nearly complete control over the storytelling experience.

.  .  .  .  .

   Stories are true to our common experience; they are statements which concern the human condition.  To the extent that the human condition involves moral considerations, stories have moral implications.  Beyond that, stories are true in that they are established squarely upon belief.  In the oral tradition stories are told not merely to entertain or to instruct; they are told to be believed.  Stories are not subject to the imposition of such questions as true or false, act or fiction.  Stories are realities lived and believed.  They are true. 

-- N. Scott Momaday --
The Man Made of Words


Aside from John Gardner, I wonder how many critics, scholars, and readers will accept Momaday's statement that stories have moral implications.  

I'm not sure exactly what Momaday means by Stories are not subject to the imposition of such questions as true or false, act or fiction.  Stories are realities lived and believed.  They are true.   I think he suggests the stories somehow are not to be judged by our ordinary commonsense ways of thinking, but exist somehow in another place. 

Any thoughts?