"Death can do no more than kill you" - WNP Barbellion

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Round and Round

Having just finishing reading a collection of M. R. James’s ghost stories, which includes The Mezzotint, I picked up Lavengro, by George Borrow. Perusing the advertisements at the back, one caught my eye, The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green by Cuthbert Bede. A little research shows this to be a pseudonymous work of Edward Bradley (1827-1889) and, furthermore, that the Oxford scout depicted in this novel, Robert Filcher, was appropriated by M. R. James for a character of the same name in… The Mezzotint.


When the disappointing performance of someone else causes one’s own contribution to appear substandard to that person, and they then react in a dismissive manner in front of a group of one’s peers. One is left feeling disappointed by the whole sorry exchange.

I do note that the pattern for this year has been one of my being obliged to trust to others with more power, authority, or professional training, to make the right decisions, and of each time being let down. And in the midst of all this, only my own performances have been of sufficient quality *not* to provoke disappointment, from either those they were intended for (who sometimes may not have cared enough to register any disappointment) or from myself (who, perhaps foolishly, persists in caring.)

Yes, I have outperformed all-comers (which has not been difficult), but unfortunately it has counted for little as I simply do not have any power or authority to exercise, over others, over events, over myself. One can do one’s absolute best and still fall to a resounding defeat. Behold me! The living proof of this fact.

Such has been 2020. May it soon be over. Here’s Samuel Johnson doing penance in the market square at Uttoxeter, having committed the sin of pride as a boy by refusing to help his father sell books.

Crowe, Eyre; Johnson (1709-1784), Doing Penance in the Market Place of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

The End of an Era

What follows is a simple statement on Glenn Greenwald’s resignation from The Intercept and what it means to me.

The arc of Greenwald’s career describes an era. I began reading his work when he was an unknown blogger in the days of the open internet. He soon attracted a large following and began a period of moving more and more into the mainstream; first, with Salon, and later with the Guardian, from where he delivered the Snowden files, at a time when Wikileaks was the darling of all the major liberal news media.

In 2013, he left the Guardian, at a time when the newspaper’s relationship with Julian Assange/Wikileaks was beginning to break down and started The Intercept, which delivered on its promise of fearless journalism by breaking more Snowden stories and with its coverage of the Vault 7 leaks of CIA hacking tools, before slowly sliding away from its mission with some atrocious hires (Mehdi Hasan being the worst) and smear pieces (of Julian Assange/Wikileaks, both of which have always served as the canary in the coal mine); the last few years have witnessed The Intercept’s transformation into an outfit indistinguishable from The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.

So here we are, it’s 2020, and Julian Assange is going through the paradoxical spectacle of a show trial held behind closed doors, Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the Labour Party, and Greenwald has resigned from The Intercept because his editors refuse to countenance any criticism of Joe Biden. We have come full circle, and Greenwald has gone back to blogging, but in an era of a closed rather than an open internet, and when those he attacked during the Bush/Cheney years are front and center once again, setting the news agenda sometimes literally, with countless former CIA officers now acting as pundits on the cable news networks and with neocons now partnering a Democratic Party that shares their wish for a new Cold War.

Looking back, older, wiser, and sadder, those days of the mid-2000s hardly seem as hellish now, days when one couldn’t, in one’s innocence, imagine that anything worse than a Bush/Cheney presidency was possible.

Thank you for not listening.

On the value of literature

Irritably responded to a graduate student regurgitating the “Reading fiction makes you more empathetic…” justification today.

Me: “Literature is not, like you are saying, good because it is a means to some desirable end, literature is an end in itself. If I were on a desert island or in a prison cell, in the full knowledge of no further human contact, I would still wish to read books. To cultivate myself, not to serve the needs of others. I understand why certain individuals make your argument when they wish to connect with others outside the academy, but I am very disappointed to hear graduate students of literature uncritically presenting this argument to their peers, it’s ultimately a very uninspiring take on what we study and why we study it.”

A classmate from Malaysia was nodding his head, I asked if he was in agreement, he said yes.

Professor nodded and repeated, “Literature is an end in itself.”


I suppose the most surprising thing about this book is that I imagine myself as being able to equal or surpass it.

A pair of blue eyes

Like a Wilkie Collins novel without a crime would be a suitable description of this novel.

It also bears strong similarities to Born in Exile by George Gissing. But whereas in Hardy there’s excessive authorial musing upon the workings of the heart, recalling Jane Austen, in Gissing there’s excessive musing upon the workings of the mind by the novel’s hero. This heart, in Hardy, is a transcendent element, as he also features the class conflict found in Gissing, and produces a split.

Coronavirus and Thomas Hardy

The coronavirus continues to rage. The wife went out to the temple this morning regardless, after warning me once more to refrain from threatening to kill the neighbors. What prompted my murderous fury on this occasion was the noxious old woman opposite, who recycles, banging with a hammer on a piece of metal at the bottom of a concrete stairwell. It was this sound that awoke me at 7 a.m., prompting me to rise, descend the stairs, cross the street, and issue my threat. “Sorry, sorry,” she replied, hammer still upraised. If it were feasible, I’d buy a howler monkey and wear ear plugs.

Discussion on a Barbara Pym facebook group has led to two recommendations of writers to check out: May Sarton and Sybille Bedford, so I have ordered some of their works. But for now I am still reading Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes and greatly enjoying it. There’s a fair amount of truth in George Gissing being dubbed, “The Hardy of the City,” and this novel bears similarities to his Born in Exile, with its love between the classes, though Gissing makes the barriers so insurmountable that an elopement does not occur, and there is none of the rich psychological insight into the lovers’ struggle in Hardy, who instead supplies an authorial commentary upon his characters’ movements of the heart.

The Spanish test is on Sunday, and I continue to read in translation David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction. The usual prejudices have surfaced, with my finding Jane Austen almost unbearable and Salinger impossible. Why he insists on reaching for the same tired old examples…

Medical history

In Taiwan you are free to view your medical history, and this week I obtained a copy of my own. Besides my being reminded of the bacon sandwich that saw me hospitalized for a week with gallstones, the other item of interest was discovering a chest X-ray revealed part of my left lung has collapsed, a fact that was not passed on to me.

No more

There is to be no more teaching children. I have been, no, I did it, for ten years, and now it is over. Walked slowly through the city yesterday, absorbing this fact with each step.

The Spanish test is this Sunday, at an unreasonable hour. Having tired of reading news from Latin America, I turned to a translation of a book by David Lodge, El Arte de la Ficcion, but not before reading in a Mexican newspaper of a clown shot dead protecting a mother and child.

I continue to read the journals of Stephen Spender at a rate of around 10 pages each day. The entries that provoke most resentment are where he notes he had dinner or spent a weekend with some notables, such as the Woolfs, and then manages to say nothing interesting about what happened, only recording that the wine was bad.

First semester over

That was not so hard.

The only low point was withdrawing from a class on Sophocles because the instructor would return from the break reeking of cigarettes.

The class on Victorian novels had a great instructor. I am just finishing my paper on Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, and we also read Frankenstein, Dracula, The Island of Dr Moreau, Flush, and Sirius.

Next semester will be more intense as I take five or six classes and become a full-time student.

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