Tag Archives: other people’s essays

good prose is like a windowpane

From George Orwell‘s essay “Why I Write”:

I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a POLITICAL purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

Orwell defines political purpose thusly – and it’s a great definition (emphasis mine, because boy how I used to argue that, usually to people who really didn’t care about the issue one way or another and concluded only that I was a little cray):

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

Anyway, ever wonder what dictators read?

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“bad houses hate our warmth and our human-ness”

Title quote from one of my favorite monologues on haunted houses, in Rose Red (which itself is heavily inspired by The Haunting of Hill House).  The speaker is, of course, a ghost who embodies the “bad house” in question.

The Paris Review has a great essay on the modern economic context of haunted houses.  It touches not only on economic crisis but Jentsch’s (“where one is unclear as to whether an object or figure or a person is inanimate or somehow alive”) and Freud’s (“Uncanny is what one calls everything that was meant to remain secret and hidden, and has come into the open”) definition of the uncanny, as well as a place the author calls the Happy Murder Castle.  It’s a winning combo that digs into the psychology of horror:

The Happy Murder Castle was disquieting, uncanny, possessed of an uneasy sense I’ve rarely felt in any structure; I’ll admit there are times I’m tempted to call it “haunted.” We tell ourselves ghost stories perhaps because we truly believe in the paranormal—or perhaps because we just need a word, a term, a story for that vague feeling that would be too silly to admit otherwise.

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love hurts

A very sweet post from Alex Berenson on a main character who’s been with him for years:

All of which is another way of saying that John Wells has markedly enriched my life — an impressive feat for a man who doesn’t exist. Sometimes I fear our relationship is as one-sided as “The Giving Tree.” I take from him ruthlessly. Over the years, I’ve destroyed his relationships with his son, his fiancée and now his new girlfriend. I’ve forced him to beat up innocent civilians, people he’s never even met before, because they’re in his way. I’ve made him accept that his superiors are using him for their political ends, and that he can’t stop them. I’ve shot him, tortured him, broken his bones. I’ve converted him to Islam, then stretched his faith in Allah to the vanishing point. Through it all, he perseveres, though sometimes I know he’s looking at me, Job-like: Why must you hurt me so? To which I can say only: It’s this or nothing. Besides, I get you through the worst of it.

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Recommended Essay

“Man vs. Corpse,” by Zadie Smith, at New York Review of Books:

It’s argued that the gap between this local care and distant indifference is a natural instinct. Natural or not, the indifference grows, until we approach a point at which the conceptual gap between the local and the distant corpse is almost as large as the one that exists between the living and the dead.

 

Oddest of all is the unequal distribution of corpses. We seem to come from a land where people, generally speaking, live. But those other people (often brown, often poor) come from a death-dealing place. What a misfortune to have been born in such a place! Why did they choose it?

Speaking personally, I think my relationship to the idea of corpses changed when I was around 10-11, when my father and then my grandfather died.  Both times, I was urged by distant relatives to look upon their dead faces, and both times, my mother stopped me.  But I remember finding a photograph in our basement that I put away so quickly I don’t even remember the photo except that there was a body in a white bed.  I also never went looking through photographs in the basement ever again.  

After this, I became obsessed with speaking truth to power about death: death is real, death will come for you, death is eternal.  The body you think is infallible will fail.  I deeply resented stories that tried to mask this truth with Heavenly Ever Afters.  It (further) soured me on religion.  Reading graphic novels that dwelled on bodily injury intensified this crusade, since the sanitized bloodless versions really annoyed me.  But I’m still very, very averse to looking at real death.  And I think that comes from a fear of disrespecting the concluded life and the disembodied soul, not a failure of memento mori.  

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