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Showing posts from October 23, 2022

Two ugly men

  Two of the great ancient sages were notoriously ugly: Aesop and Socrates. In both cases, the ugliness was a disguise – the sage as a clown, the clown as omen. Gerard Mace, in his essay on Aesop in Vies anterieurs, begins by recounting his encounter with a streetcorner beggar and storyteller – his Aesop. “ The Aesop that I knew did not at all ressemble the big lipped Moor that La Fontaine evokes in one of his stories, but it is true that Aesop became ugly, because the legend needed it, many centuries after he lived. For posthumous life is as badly assured as the first one ; one continues to change masters and reputation as one changes face as one grows older.” What was the « besoin » of legends that made Aesop ugly? Perhaps it was the same necessity that gave Socrates an ugly face – the fabulous proximity of the sage and the buffoon. To my mind, there is something ominous, or omened, in the fact that the French revolution was, as it were, driven by ugly men. Danton, the awkwar

Woolf as essayist

  Few novelists have a great gift for the essay. Usually the essays of the professional novelist, the Martin Amis type, have a between-work air. Among the Brits, the great essayist-novelists are Lawrence, Woolf and Pritchett. I have been in love with Jimmy Joyce since highschool, and consider Ulysses the summit – but he was no essayist. Nor is this a gift distributed largely among great poets. Wallace Stevens’ essays are read only in as much as they refer to the real work. Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop wrote beaucoup prose, but it, similarly, is parasitic to the work.     But even if you subtracted the fiction from   Lawrence, Woolf and Pritchett, their essays would enroll them among the great writers. Woolf in her essays retains her novelist’s gift for describing the body – in fact, her description of, say, Hazlitt is of a more concentrated, pictorial strain than she usually devotes to the characters in her novels, who go from the voice to the body. Her Hazlitt (in her ess