May. 29th, 2017

I've wanted to read Helen DeWitt's book for ages and it didn't let me down. Sib's voice is instantly eccentric and captivating:
  • The children could all play five or six instruments with flair but they hated to practice: They emerged from each piece either bloody but unbowed or miraculously unscathed, and they had all assumed they would be musicians. Buddy was the first to find they would not.
  • My father stood by the piano and he suddenly thought What would be the odds against going to a seminary and going to synagogue and learning to play pool, just suppose he fell in love with a Jewish girl from Philadelphia and made a fortune in motels and lived happily ever after, say the odds were a billion to one that was still not the same as impossible so it was not actually impossible that his father had not, in fact— Linda plunged down
  • There are people who think contraception is immoral because the object of copulation is procreation. In a similar way there are people who think the only reason to read a book is to write a book; people should call up books from the dust and the dark and write thousands of words to be sent down to the dust and the dark which can be called up so that other people can send further thousands of words to join them in the dust and the dark.
  • It took five to ten minutes to read a sentence—an hour a page. Slowly the outlines of the argument loomed out of the mist, like Debussy’s drowned cathedral sortant peu à peu de la brume.
  • they loved scenes in which people who had gone berserk raved in strange, fractured speeches studded with unjustly neglected vocabulary; they loved to focus on some trivial element of a myth and spin it out and skip the myth—they could make a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of any Hamlet. As scholars, as scientists, as mathematicians, as poets who led the flower of Roman youth astray, they crowd their way into books not mainly about them; given a book to themselves they burst out at once into a whole separate volume of footnotes—I speak of course of Fraser’s Ptolemaic Alexandria
  • Having settled on stupidity as the criterion of inauthenticity he went on to discard one stupid remark after another as really by Zenodotus or Aristophanes
  • Each bedside table, he explains, has a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species in the top drawer. In fact it’s a really good day because that very morning one of the guests stole the Origin of Species instead of a towel.
  • Surely Oxford would not insist on mindless enthusiasm just to prove you can be enthusiastic about something. Surely Oxford would not accept hearsay as evidence. Surely Oxford wouldn’t hold a reference against you without knowing anything about the writer.
  • I had spent 46+ hours on this bizarre piece of logic at a time when I had read not a word of Musil, or Rilke, or Zweig. But I did not have a scholarship to read things that were merely good; I had a scholarship to make a contribution to knowledge.
  • But I suddenly thought that this was exactly the problem, this was the diabolical thing about life: one minute of a Carling Black Label ad to two hours of Ghostbusters XXXV that you didn’t even want to see in the first place.
  • I thought suddenly: Rilke was the secretary of Rodin.
  • How is it possible to argue this, you say, AND to know that a brother and sister may have no genes in common, without being committed to the unlikely theory that any man could be a Mozart with similar training? You say it, and I thought it; but the fact is that a clever man so seldom needs to think
  • The Alien has a long eel-like neck and little reptilian eyes. I put both hands around its throat & I said: Rot in hell. It coughed & said sweetly: So sorry to intrude. Admirable maternity! All time devoted to infant amelioration. Selflessly devoted!
  • Emma was really the next worst thing to the States. She loved America in the way that the Victorians loved Scotland, French Impressionists Japan.
  • The fact is that though things were better than when I had been reading things people had thrown their lives away on seventy years before at any moment a passion would fling itself on the first idea standing by and gallop off ventre à terre—how quietly and calmly some people argue.
  • it was depressing in a literature to see all the languages fading into English which in America was the language of forgetfulness.
  • it was preposterous that people who were by and large the most interesting the most heroic the most villainous the newest immigrants could appear in the literature of the country only as character actors speaking bad English or italics & by & large both they & their descendants’ ignorance of their language & customs could not be represented at all in the new language, which had forgotten that there was anything to forget.
  • In the same way a composer does not for the most part think that he would like to imitate this or that sound—he thinks that he wants the texture of a piano with a violin, or a piano with a cello, or four stringed instruments or six, or a symphony orchestra; he thinks of relations of notes... but if a book just used them so that the English spoke English & the Italians Italian that would be as stupid as saying use yellow for the sun because the sun is yellow.
  • Perhaps a writer would think of the monosyllables and lack of grammatical inflection in Chinese, and of how this would sound next to lovely long Finnish words all double letters & long vowels in 14 cases or lovely Hungarian all prefixes suffixes, & having first thought of that would then think of some story about Hungarians or Finns with Chinese.
  • that compromise which we call the tempered system, which amounts to an indefinitely extended truce
  • & in my mind I would hear languages related like a circle of fifths, I would see languages with shades of each other,
  • I realised that, faced with coming up with a reply, I had thought of the question and not the questioner.
  • No one had ever asked me if he was boring me who wasn't.
  • Lord Leighton (the painter of Greek Girls Playing at Ball) specialised in scenes of antiquity in which marvellous perplexities of drapery roamed the canvas, tarrying only in their travels to protect the modesty of a recruit from the Tyrone Power school of acting. His fault was not a lack of skill: it is the faultlessness of his skill which makes the paintings embarrassing to watch, so bare do they strip the mind of their creator.
  • so did Lord Leighton (the writer) bring the most agitated emotions to an airless to a hushed to an unhurried while each word took on because there was all the time in the world for each word to take on the bloom which only a great Master can give to a word using his time to allow all unseemly energy to become aware of its nakedness and snatch gratefully at the fig leaf provided until all passion in the airlessness in the hush in the absence of hurry sank decently down in the slow death of motion to perpetual stasis
  • he is like a man who plays Yesterday on the piano with Brahmsian amplitude & lushness and so casually kicks aside the very thing which is the essence of the song.
  • In a less barbarous society children would not be in absolute economic subjection to the irrational beings into whose keeping fate has consigned them: they would be paid a decent hourly wage for attending school.
  • is a tiresome feature of piano music that (since 10 or more notes may be played simultaneously) it involves anything up to 10 times the amount of sight reading of any other instrument.
  • She said: What about the violin? Is there anything you’d like me to do on the violin? The homely man started to laugh & said No I don’t think so. He said he also had no advice to offer on the viola, the mandolin or the flute.
  • But even after just three weeks of the exercise she thought that she would never again be able to walk innocently into a room to show what she could do.
  • But after the audition my mother thought it might work some other way. If there was this desert of technical work to be crossed before you could play the piano, maybe every other instrument and maybe the voice was also surrounded by a desert.
  • If I could read anything I wanted I would read The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap.

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