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Showing posts from August 30, 2009

oh I assure you, cried she, he is the best of men

This letter was sent from Juniper Hall Dorking Surrey in 1793: “When J learned to read english J begun by milton to know all or renounce at all in once J follow the same system in writing my first english letter to Miss burney after such an enterprize nothing can affright me J feel for her so tender a friendship that it melts my admiration inspires my heart with hope of her indulgence and impresses me with the idea that in a tongue even unknown J could express sentiments so deeply felt my servant will return for a french answer J intreat miss burney to correct the words but to preserve the sense of that card best compliments to my dear protectress Madame Phillipe.” The writer is Madame de Staël, who is learning English by reading Milton. Perhaps a method that is not as abstruse as it sounds, for who is more Latinate than Milton? And by our etymological roots shall we embrace each other, brothers and sisters. I began this thread by thinking of an encounter that did not take place:

the dark image of respectability

LI, a scared pigeon when all is said and done, said yes yes yes to everything last month, fearful that he was otherwise going to swallow his last mouthful of food and shrivel up. It turns out that saying yes yes yes means much less time to direct the all powerful mental rays at the problem of respectability. Besides which, my original idea about respectability has been somewhat changed by reading Pride and Prejudice, in which Elizabeth Bennet becomes a larger and larger figure as respectability turns out not just to be a static regime of outward signs put in place in reaction to the old order (as I was thinking naively thinking of it), but as a much more interesting modality of passions - the inward signs of certain collective feelings, especially about shame. As I’ve often pointed out, the total social fact of happiness is opposed, dialectically, not to unhappiness, but to nemesis. It is, surprisingly, nemesis that one sees in operation in Pride and Prejudice. I don’t have time for