Archive for Gustave Dore

Page Seventeen II: The Klumps

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2021 by dcairns

But while the Americans were pussyfooting around the English language trying to invent new ways of describing an old deed, the British had few (if any) qualms and certainly had no particular ethical problems about assassination.

In these assassinations of princes and statesmen, there is nothing to excite our wonder: important changes often depend on their deaths; and, from the eminence on which they stand, they are peculiarly exposed to the aim of every artist who happens to be possessed by the craving for scenical effect. But there is another class of assassinations, which has prevailed from the early period of the seventeenth century, that really does surprise me; I mean the assassination of philosophers. For, gentlemen, it is a fact, that every philosopher of eminence for the last two centuries has either been murdered, or, at the very least, been very near it; insomuch, that if a man call himself a philosopher, and never had his life attempted, rest assured there is nothing in him; and against Locke’s philosophy in particular, I think it an unanswerable objection, (if we needed any) that, although he carried his throat about with him in this world for seventy-two years, no man ever condescended to cut it. As these cases of philosophers are not much known, and are generally good and well composed in their circumstances, I shall here read an excursus on the subject, chiefly by way of showing my own learning.

The true and detailed story of how the young Dowager Empress managed to defeat the Regency Council in her struggle for power is unknown to us. We do, however, know the result. Tzu Hsi won and one of her first edicts which ushered in her 47-year rule of China read:

You know what it is to be born alone, baby tortoise!

He remembered how, ten months or possibly ten years ago, he had encountered a box turtle in a forest clearing, and had shouted at it: “They went that-away!” The turtle’s rigidly comical face, fixed in a caricature of startled disapproval, had seemed to point up some truth or other. Brian had hunkered down on the moss and laughed uproariously, until he observed that some of the laughter was weeping.

I am still not clear how I got here. There are no turtles. There is no bay.

This afternoon I bought a marked-down bird book with plates by John Gould (1804-1881). There’s a handsome picture of two oyster-catchers. ‘At running, diving and swimming they are unrivalled, while their vigilance is greatly appreciated by the other birds of the shore,’ says the book. The newer bird books have hundreds of posh pictures, the proficiency of the artists is dazzling. But the birds all looks as if they’d been done from photographs. Certainly there were no such bird pictures before the camera came into use. Gould’s birds are beautiful but modestly done and he seems to have looked at each one carefully and long. His eagle owl, Bubo bubo, is all ferocity but without malice. Dangling from his beak is a dead rabbit who looks exactly like Peter Rabbit without the blue jacket. Bubo bubo’s dreadful amber eyes say simply, ‘It has fallen to me to do this. It is my lot.’ His fierce woolly owl-babies huddle before him waiting for their dinner.

Terminate with Extreme Prejudice: An exposé of the assassination game, its killers and their paymasters by Richard Belfield; On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts by Thomas DeQuincey; The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi: The Last Manchu edited by Paul Kramer; Baby Tortoise by D.H. Lawrence, from The Faber Book of Beasts edited by Paul Muldoon; The Music Master of Babylon by Edgar Pangborn, from The Mammoth Book of Science Fiction Volume One, edited by David G. Hartwell; Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut; Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban.

Page Seventeen II: The Smell of Fear

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2021 by dcairns

Callendar’s shop window had been smashed by and angry girl who had thrown a bicycle through it. It was now boarded up and the timber slates bore the commemorative legend in white chalk:

“You agreed to take the beasts.”

The water was boiling and I sterilized the instruments. Infection can follow even the most rigid asepsis and his dusty kitchen for an operating theatre hardly gave the man on the table a sporting chance. For a minute I considered not operating at all and letting fate decide.

I went forward mechanically, swung the spade over my shoulder and smashed the blade of it with all my strength against the protruding chin. I felt and almost heard the fabric of his skull crumple up crisply like an empty eggshell. I do not know how often I struck him after that but I did not stop until I was tired.

It seemed to the Procurator that the cypresses and palms in the garden gave off the smell of roses, that the accursed smell of roses was mingled with the odors of the convoy’s leather gear and sweat.

He rolled his head back and sniffed, but there was no smell of roses in the room. He was getting dizzy and weak, but at least there was no smell of roses.

“Smells like an earthquake,” said Margaret, and dressed. Emily remembered the awful story about the governess and the hair-brush: certainly Margaret did not use one for its ordinary purpose, though she had long hair: so it must be true.

Seven short passages from seven page seventeens selected from various books lying about my person.

Live Now, Pay Later by Jack Trevor Story; The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells; Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak; The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien; The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov; Last Call by Tim Powers; A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

Page Seventeen II: Attack of the Clones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2021 by dcairns

Leaving the Church changed Luis’s intellectual habits as well. Until then, he had coasted along on the usual teenage reading: Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter, with the occasional Spanish feuilleton. Afterwards, Darwin, Nietzsche, Kropotkin and novelists of the Spanish realist tradition replaced them. Luis never went back to reading for recreation. In his seventies, the books on his shelves were histories of the Church, some surrealist poetry, and Heni Fabre’s pioneering texts on insects. If one wanted sex, action and travel to exotic lands, they were more easily found in the real world.

“I’ve had time to think it through,” Boyd said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I can accept the fact, but not too well, only barely. Luis, do you have some explanation? How come you are so different from the rest of us?”

He did not believe, and yet he admitted the supernatural. Right here on earth how could any of us deny that we are hemmed in by mystery, in our homes, in the street, – everywhere when we come to think of it. It was really the part of shallowness to ignore these extrahuman relations and account for the unforeseen by attributing to fate the more than inexplicable. Did not a chance encounter often decide the entire life of a man? What was love, what the other inescapable shaping influences? And, knottiest enigma of all, what was money?

The 12th came, and he shot wretchedly, for his nerve had gone to pieces. He stood exhaustion badly, and became a dweller about the doors. But with this bodily inertness came an extraordinary intellectual revival. He read widely in a blundering way, and he speculated unceasingly. It was a characteristic of the man that as soon as he left the paths of the prosaic he should seek the supernatural in a very concrete form. He assumed that he was haunted by the devil – the visible personal devil in whom our fathers believed. He waited hourly for the shape at his side to speak, but no words came. The Accuser of the Brethren in all but tangible form was his ever present companion. He felt, he declared, the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his blood. He sold his soul many times over, indeed there was no possibility of resistance. It was a Visitation more undeserved than Job’s, and a thousandfold more awful.

Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser’s closet; but John’s eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on one wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have exclaimed in his after-life, ‘Only the eyes had life, They gleamed with demon light.’ – Thalaba.

‘Excuse me,’ said the impenetrable Scotchman. ‘I beg to suggest that you are losing the thread of the narrative.’

‘Anyway,’ Mavis was anxious to reassure him that she had not lost track of the original topic, ‘it’s the same with Swiss Cheese Plants. They’re strong. Any conditions will suit them and they’ll strangle anything that gets in their way. They use–they used to use them, I should say–the big ones to fell other trees in Paraguay. I think it’s Paraguay. But when it comes to getting the leaves to separate, well, all you can say is that they’re bastards to train. Like strong men, I guess. In the end you have to take ’em or leave ’em as they come.’

Seven extracts from seven pages seventeens selected willy-nilly from my charity shop hauls and library visits. Wilkie Collins’ Armadale is my current reading matter, and very thrilling it is too, with shipwrecks, murder, dream detection and sinister schemes. It actually has a chapter entitled “The Plot Thickens” and may even mark the origin of that expression. Highly recommended if you want something fat and gripping, and you have no Laird Cregar in your life.

Thanks to Jeff Gee for the Simak.

Bunuel by John Baxter; Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Clifford D. Simak, from The Best Science Fiction of the Year 10 edited by Terry Carr; La-Bas by J.K. Huysmans; The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan, from Scottish Ghost Stories, selected by Rosemary Gray; Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin; Armadale by Wilkie Collins; The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming by Michael Moorcock.