What I read on my holiday

I spent most of my holiday on the Essex coast catching up on some reading. Here are some quotes that grabbed me.

London Review of Books, 8-14 April 2011

What’s Your Dust Worth?

By Steven Shapin (subscribers only):

Save for the celebrated, memory-death takes about a generation. Depending on the network of memory-keepers, you’re socially dead about 25 years after having been legally declared so.

Illuminating, horrible, etc

By Jenny Turner. From David Foster Wallace’s story ‘Good Old Neon’, in Oblivion:

We all seem to go around trying to use English (or whatever language our native country happens to use, it goes without saying) to try to convey to other people what we’re thinking and to find out what they’re thinking, when in fact deep down everybody knows it’s a charade and they’re just going through the motions. What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any one given instant.

New York Review of Books, 19 August 2010


By Tony Judt:

Universities are elitist: they are about selecting the most able cohort of a generation and educating them to their ability — breaking open the elite and making it consistently anew. Equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are not the same thing. A society divided by wealth and inheritance cannot redress this injustice by camouflaging it in educational institutions — by denying distinctions of ability or by restricting selective opportunity — while favouring a steadily widening income gap in the name of the free market. This is mere cant and hypocrisy.

The Beats: Pictures of a Legend

By Edmund White. Allen Ginsberg said:

If you’re famous, you can get away with anything! William Burroughs spent the last ten years painting, and makes a lot more money out of his painting than he does out of his previous writing. If you establish yourself in one field, it’s possible that people then take you seriously in another. Maybe too seriously. I know lots of great photographers who are a lot better than me, who don’t have a big, pretty coffee table book like I have. I’m lucky.

Guardian, 23 April 2011

John Berger: a life in writing

By Nicholas Wroe:

“The only rule in collaboration is that one should never strike deals and never compromise,” [Berger] says. “If you disagree on something you shouldn’t yield and you shouldn’t insist on winning. Instead you should just accept that the solution is not right and carry on until it is right. The temptation to say ‘you can have this one and I will have the next one’ is fatal.”

New York Review of Books, 14 October 2010

Searching for a Lost World

By Edmund de Waal (subscribers only):

There is a well-known story about [Charles Ephrussi’s] purchase of Manet’s Bunch of Asparagus: Manet asked 800 francs for it, but Charles was so delighted with the picture that he sent him 1,000 francs instead; Manet, in return, sent a small additional painting of one asparagus spear with an accompanying note that said, “This seems to have slipped from the bundle.”

High and Low on Crack

By Darryl Pinckney (also susbscribers only):

Billie Holiday said she knew she’d kicked her drug habit when she realised she couldn’t stand television any longer.

New York Review of Books, 11 November 2011

A Genius for Contempt

By Russell Baker (subscribers only). H.L. Mencken said:

My one purpose in writing I have explained over and over again: it is simply to provide a kind of katharsis for my own thoughts. They worry me until they are set forth in words. This may be a kind of insanity, but at all events it is free of moral purpose. I am never much interested in the effects of what I write.

How the Supreme Court Should and Should Not Work

By Anthony Lewis (subscribers only, again):

[Supreme Court Justice Stephen] Breyer describes meeting the chief justice of an African country who asked him, “Why do Americans do what the courts say?” Breyer answered that there was no secret,

no magic words on paper. Following the law is a matter of custom, of habit, of widely shared understandings as to how those in government and members of the public should, and will, act when faced with a court decision they strongly dislike.

Breyer says of 2000’s Bush v. Gore decision (which he thought was wrong) over the counting of votes that “the most remarkable … feature of the case” was that the public, of whatever political stripe, followed the decision, rather than rebel in some way.

New York Review of Books, 9 December 2010

Religious Faith and John Rawls

By Kwame Anthony Appiah (subscribers only):

Rawls truly thought that, when it came to thinking about matters of fundamental justice, a liberal was, as Robert Frost used to say, someone “too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

The Historic Election: Four Views

David Bromwich:

George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier that while it might be too much to hope for economic equality, he liked the idea of a world where the richest man was only ten times richer than the poorest. Bertrand Russell in Freedom versus Organisation wrote that since money is a form of power, a high degree of economic inequality is not compatible with political democracy. Those statements did not seem radical seventy years ago. Today no national politician would dare assent to either.

Commenting is disabled on posts once they’re 30 days old.

3 May 2011 at Twitter

  • 8:27am: @HMStack Sorry, been away… there’s a bust of Pepys in the garden/square on Seething Lane.
  • 8:24am: PLAY

3 May 2011 in Links