. . . Laura Riding

. . .

Goodbye to All That

A long essay on a difficult writer: Laura True-Teller and Other Fairy Tales.

. . .

Moral Analytical Dialectical Confront! (or, "I always say everybody's right")

  1. From Jeremy Rugulose Rogers McTolkien, via Caterina:

    "The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."

    "In which case it is no longer white," said I. "And he who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom."

  2. From an email:

    Technology (being put together) has to be taken apart to understand it. Art (similarly) has to be undertaken to understand it. Biology -- yeah, it's a sticky subject, but would you be satisfied with a medicine based on first principles and pulse-taking?

    As for that which we love -- there is taking apart, and there is delving, and there is close observation of experience, and there is celebration. The sound clip you quote confounds the four, but I think the distinctions are in the motives and the outcome, not the methodology. Ground can be broken without destroying it.

  3. From "Letter to Those Who May Care to Reflect on Me Should There Travel to Them a Report That I Have Died" by Laura (Riding) Jackson in Chelsea 69 (issue érotique)

    I recommend that you cast your thought on me in the forms 'What thought on her is Truth?' and 'What thought on her is Kind Thought?' I propose 'kind thought' not because of wanting to be thought on kindly. (I have not sought in my life to be treated kindly.) Kind thought would be best because when your thought on me fails to be Truth (and I know that thought of me has such failing in it among you -- how could it be otherwise, Truth still in human time of the appearance of a necessity competing with other necessities?), kind thought will put a blank in place of untrue thinking (kind thought resting in itself, thinking to no conclusion).

. . .

"Who's the weirdo?"

"The object of group truth is group-confirmation and perpetuation."
     -- Laura Riding, Anarchism Is Not Enough, 1928

  On the set of Queen Christina

As usual, Laura Riding is unpleasantly correct. Science says so! A top priority for any social group is to protect the integrity of the group by erasing disputes within the group and exaggerating disputes with those outside the group. We need to synchronize our beliefs; their truth is a secondary (if that) consideration. One might even speculate that the very concept of verifiable "truth" develops -- not invariably -- from the social pressure to eliminate disagreement.

One well-documented result is that group discussions polarize attitudes, leading not so much to the lowest common denominator as to the most extreme tenable discriminator. Stereotyping of other groups, for example, follows that pattern: after a good hearty talk about Those People, mild prejudices become more vicious, and, having been publicly stated, more clung to.

Sadly (for those of us who perceive innate value in "truth"), just providing evidence to the contrary to everyone in the group isn't enough to interfere with this high-contrast-filter transformation. People -- not being essentially rational -- don't waste attention on evidence unless there's a reason to. If everyone in the group shares familiarity with the same counter-stereotypic information, they don't feel compelled to bring that information up. It's old news, as the saying goes.

But in "The Communication of Social Stereotypes" (Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Vol. 81, No. 3), Markus Brauer, Charles M. Judd, & Vincent Jacquelin found a loophole:

If only one member of the group knows the counter-stereotypic information, the information is grounds for disagreement. Thus it becomes interesting, attention is drawn to it, and polarization doesn't occur. Heterogeneity within the group increases the visibility of evidence, and thus the validity of group opinions.

Some comments:

  1. Anyone who's lived and worked both in widely diverse groups and in severely monocultural groups (and who perceives innate value in "truth") knows how much more satisfying the former are. Obviously, this is partly because there are fewer polarization points for untruths to latch onto. But secondarily, experience and knowledge may become more accessible to the group if they vary.

  2. Which in turn reminds me of the ways in which teaching can help the teacher learn.

  3. More depressively, I might guess that there are some cultural dependencies at work here, and that, internationally, not all groups would be equally invested in debate as a way to secure group boundaries.

  4. More obsessively, I scribble a barely legible cross-reference into my neuraesthetics notes: "attention drawn to particulars: evolutionary counterbalance to generalization."

. . .

Words to live by, at a safe distance

I continue more hunter-gatherer than cultivator, without much more to say about Laura Riding's 1928 prose collection Anarchism Is Not Enough than 1) it seems a useful reference point for a certain type of person, 2) thanks to the Sonny Bono act, it's not due to enter the public domain until 2023, and 3) thanks to Lisa Samuels, it's been reissued in a still-available paperback edition. A sampler quilt of aphoristic blocks:

"Language and Laziness"

Poetry is an attempt to make language do more than express; to make it work; to redistribute intelligence by means of the word. If it succeeds in this the problem of communication disappears. It does not treat this problem as a matter of mathematical distribution of intelligence between an abstract known and unknown represented in a concrete knower and not-knower. The distribution must take place, if at all, within the intelligence itself.

"This Philosophy"

Only what is comic is perfect: it is outside of reality, which is self-defeating, serious striving to be outside of reality, to be perfect. Reality cannot escape from reality because it is made of belief, and capable only of belief. Perfection is what is unbelievable, the joke.

"A Complicated Problem"

A complicated problem is only further complicated by being simplified. A state of confusion is never made comprehensible by being given a plot. Appearances do not deceive if there are enough of them. The truth is always laid out in an infinite number of circles tending to become, but never becoming, concentric -- except occasionally in poetry.

"What Is a Poem?"

Whenever this vacuum, the poem, occurs, there is agitation on all sides to destroy it, to convert it into something. The conversion of nothing into something is the task of criticism. Literature is the storehouse of these rescued somethings. In discussing literature, one has to use, unfortunately, the same language that one uses in discussing experience. But even so, literature is preferable to experience, since it is for the most part the closest one can get to nothing.

"All Literature"

People may treat themselves as extraneous phenomena or as fundamental phenomena -- it does not matter which. It does not matter, so long as they behave consistently as one or the other. What discredits character is not self-importance or self-unimportance, but the adjustment of person importance according to expediency.

"Poetry and Music"

Poetry isolates all loose independencies and then integrates them into one close independency which, when complete, has nothing to do but confront itself. Poetry therefore seems idle, sterile, narrow, destroying. And it is. This is what recommends it.

"Poetry and Painting"

Painters no longer paint with paint except in the sense that poets write with ink. Paint is now only a more expensive, elegant ink.

So much for the so-called abstractness of painting: the sense is made identical with the medium by forcibly marrying it to the medium. Medium and sense are a legally fictitious One in which the medium, the masculine factor, forces the sense, the feminine factor, to bear his name and do honour to his bed and table. She is all meek, hopeless amicability, he is all blustering, good-humored cynicism.


And here psycho-analysis is more consistent than criticism because it is frankly interested in extraversion rather than in extraversive works: it would not seriously worry psycho-analysis if works and their authors were discontinued: it would still have Case B, in which Mr. X and Miss Y. . . . Criticism, on the other hand, cannot get along without famous works by famous authors, which are, moreover, a continual source of discord since they are all introversive in origin and cannot be allowed to take their place in literature until they have been rigorously extraversified.

[Of course, criticism has since taken great strides away from its dependency on individual works of literature by individual authors.]

"Hungry to Hear"

A clear situation like this, in which life is easy to understand, is cruel to them. It leaves no scratches in the mind around which opinions, sympathies, silly repetitions can fester and breed dreams and other remote infections -- too remote always to give serious pain. They long to be fumbled, to have confusion and uncertainty make a confused and uncertain end of them. There they sit, having pins-and-needles of obscurity which they mistake for sensation. They open their newspapers: 'I suppose it is foolish to spend all this time reading newspapers? They are lying and dishonest and devoted to keeping a certain portion of the population in ignorance and intellectual slavery? Or is it foolish to take it so seriously? I shall go on reading them out of sophistication? . . .' Oh, go to hell.

"How Came It About?"

I feel an intense intimacy with those who have this loathing interest in me. Further than this, I know what they mean, I sympathize with them, I understand them. There should be a name (as poetic as love) for this relationship between loather and loathed; it is of the closest and more full of passion than incest.

Also her clothes, which do not fit her well: this again makes me even more attached to her. If she knew this she would be exasperated against me all the more, and I should like it; not because I want to annoy her but because this would make our relationship still more intense. It would be terrible to me if we ever became friends; like a divorce.

"In a Cafe"

I for one am resolved to mind or not mind only to the degree where my point of view is no larger than myself. I can thus have a great number of points of view, like fingers, and which I can treat as I treat the fingers of my hand, to hold my cup, to tap the table for me and fold themselves away when I do not wish to think.

It is all indeed, I admit, rather horrible. But if I remain a person instead of becoming a point of view, I have no contact with horror.

I am well aware that we form, all together, one monster. But I refuse to giggle and I refuse to be frightened and I refuse to be fierce. Nor will I feed or be fed on. I will simply think of other things. I will go now. Let them stare. I am well though eccentrically dressed.

"An Anonymous Book" [anticipating Borges]

An anonymous book for children only was published by an anonymous publisher and anonymously praised in an anonymous journal. Moreover, it imitated variously the style of each of the known writers of the time, and this made the responsibility for its authorship all the more impossible to place. For none of the known writers could in the circumstances look guilty. But every one else did.

"The Damned Thing" [anticipating Lacan]

Man himself is unreal. On woman he gets physical reality. She is his nature, the realistic enlargement of his own small sexual apparatus. She is the morphological supplement of his phallus. Through her he can refine, ritualize and vary his monotonous and trivial appendage. It is perhaps fair to say that as a consciousness man is woman's equal. As a physical apparatus he is a clumsily devised gadget.

When, she sighs, will man grow up, when will he become woman, when will she have companions instead of children?

"Letter of Abdication"

My o my o my o, what a thing, poor beastie, to be but dainty when you would be statistical.

. . .

The Underground Press Cartel

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY   On the sidewalk outside some theater a while back, Juliet and I found a leftover from the last Syco Fantic Int'l Film Festival: an expensively produced perfect-bound 48-page (plus translucent inset sheet) booklet promoting CQ, a "quality" studio film written and directed by some guy whose previous experience seems to have been as a second unit director on Bram Stoker's Dracula and The Virgin Suicides.

Although probably inspired by having seen Irma Vep on DVD, the film presents itself as a we-kid-because-we-love tribute to those fab 1960s Europop productions that were accomplished at about, what, one-tenth the budget?

The swag's cover informs us that EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY.

Following groovalicious Jean-Luc Godard's lead, let's see what story is told by the swag:

1. Underground Press Cartel
2. Dolby Gital
3. Allrights Reserved
My old pal Matt disapproves of my obsession with the Coppolas. After all, they haven't gone out of their way to do me any harm personally, and it's papa's right to throw his money at whatever he wants (minus taxes, please), and besides, Roman was a wealthy and enthusiastic and godawful poker player, which helped finance Matt's way through college.

I'm happy about that last one anyway. But, when attacked, obsessive resentment will, to save itself, even go so far as to try to find rational reasons.

There's this standard way of putting down self-publishing (and non-publishing) as easy-ride self-indulgence, and this standard way of assuming that anything that gets officially stamped as high art has been inspected for quality. Whereas even a glancing acquaintance with the actual workings of cultural institutions discloses vanity publishing, nepotism, and self-aggrandizement, albeit on a larger scale. We get doctorates by supporting our advisor's research; we get good reviews by giving good reviews; we get publicity by having a name. And then we're supposed to forget everything we learned about our meat suppliers while we're dishing out the sausage.

This after-the-fact idealism reminds me of the fights I used to get into back when affirmative action was still something to fight for, as opposed to reminiscing about. "Everyone should get hired strictly on the basis of merit." Like anyone ever has been.

Yeah, I know: Grow up.

But see, that's exactly where I get all prissy-lipped. I don't mind a rich guy buying lights to put his name in (after taxes), and I can understand how rich kids are naturally better set up to do things that don't bring in any income but are highly regarded and get lots of life-style propaganda because they don't bring in any income. ("For few people are really interested in anyone else's description of himself except as it makes them feel upper-class." - Laura Riding)

I just don't see why, on top of all that, I should be the one who has to grow up.

. . .

The Saddest Music in the World: Two Possibilities

  1. Combining the raw intensity of Vincent Price and the aristocratic flair of Rowan Atkinson, Ross McMillan provides the truest embodiment of an Edgar Allen Poe hero ever captured on film.

    Oh, the other stars "play it straight," but for them it remains play. Such distance is far from fatal to Guy Maddin's films, any more than it is to the work of John Waters or Jean-Luc Godard, or the non-series diversions of Eric Rohmer. But only with McMillan does acting become this film's life; only there do we see cinematography document the mechanics of the soul. The sincerity of his melancholy seems bottomless completely depthless, in fact, yet as inarguable as the black matte circle a Warner Brothers character slaps onto a mountainside.

    Oscars™ all round! All round Ross McMillan, that is, closing in while he shrinks, shuddering, transfixed in anticipation of their chill, hairless, gentle but unyielding press against his fleshy calf!

  2. One of the creators of Lady Port-Huntly has been acquainted with the creator of Lady Port-Huntlady.

. . .

Interviewer: I'm reminded of Casanova's famous expression that "the best moment of love is when one is climbing the stairs." One can hardly imagine a homosexual today making such a remark.

MF: Exactly. Rather, he would say something like, "the best moment of love is when the lover leaves in the taxi." [....] It is when the act is over and the boy is gone that one begins to dream about the warmth of his body, the quality of his smile, the tone of his voice. This is why the great homosexual writers of our culture (Cocteau, Genet, Burroughs) can write so elegantly about the sexual act itself, because the homosexual imagination is for the most part concerned with reminiscing about the act rather than anticipating it. And, as I said earlier, this is all due to very concrete and practical considerations and says nothing about the intrinsic nature of homosexuality.

- Michel Foucault, "Sexual Choice, Sexual Act."

Sex is a perfidious intellectual digression into physical reminiscences.

- Laura Riding, "The Damned Thing"

Plenty of homosexual men are goal-driven, and there's also the boy in the taxi to consider. And some women and heterosexual men are nostalgic sensualists; even so stereotypically straight a guy as Fellini detested Casanova.

Well, it's an interview; Foucault speaks loosely, drops a crumb from his pastry, it's easily brushed away, it's all due to very concrete and practical considerations. This is, in short, an uninteresting disagreement.

The main point, that some such contrast of sexual imagination can be found, I agree with. It's a thought I've often had, in words no more exact than Foucault's, thought and rethought till the shoddy material's gray and gummy with handling. Foucault gives no relief: his formulation lacks the secure snap that would let me stow the thought away and the crafted surface that would make it pleasant to take down again. Our mere coincidence of mind might be taken as reassuring, but really, even I'm not that emotionally needy.

Riding's formulation is nothing but snap. I can't say whether I agree or not acknowledgment seems the most liberty she'd permit but this I can predict: every time I morosely chew the reheated canned spinach of my and Foucault's thought, Riding's grain of grit will be there.


Josh Lukin:
Damn right Foucault speaks loosely, and it's disturbing how his highly experimental ideas and his most casual remarks have been solidified into dogmas.

Case in point: what the often-admirable Halperin and the pedagogically gifted Zizek have made of an offhand speculation or perhaps wisecrack of Foucault's on the subject of fisting. MF would offer some choice words on amateur philosophers.

Yeah for example, I'm pretty confident he could tear me a new one without much effort....

. . .

Good Enough

I'm reluctant to call anything a "cultural universal," even something that pretty much decides whether an archaeologist announces the discovery of "culture," but art-making is certainly more universal than the justifications offered for art-making. Which is not to say that art is best when motivated least but merely to confess that, as with other cultural near-universals (marriage, say), any particular motivation won't suffice for the general case. Or even for the particular.

Thus the let-down. Thanks to the Republican furloughs I finally disgorged the "ethical criticism" essay that lodged between brain and trachea for a year and a half, and to quote Lord Bullingdon "I have not received satisfaction." Not that I could receive satisfaction, I know that much by now. Cross-posting to the Valve would've bought me at most a day or two, and appearing in a print organ would've sickened me for months instead of weeks. The least miserable producers I know avoid hangovers by making sure a new project's underway by the time the old one's facing the public. With this dayjob, though, the best I can manage is hair of the dog.

Of course I am obscure; I am not offering myself but my hospitality. Nor do I hawk my hospitality abroad. I give out indications of my willingness to dispense hospitality on a basis that protects my integrity as a host.
- Laura Riding, letter to the Times Literary Supplement, March 3 1932,
six years before closing her quaint-curiosity-shoppe-with-New-York-deli-service

Given my mood, I wondered why our beloved metameat didn't flourish das Gift, but upon reflection in someone else's mirror I realized that probably once you've learned German and read Finnegans Wake and a shitload of critical theory you'd get a little tired of that particular false friend, even if no false friend was ever better named.

Or was it? Maybe we can't trust it even that far. A perfect false friend, like a perfect rhyme or perfect pun, should be the product of miraculous chance. Whereas Gift is poison because poison is something given:

[Com. Teut.: OE. ghift str. fem. (recorded only in the sense 'payment for a wife', and in the plural with the sense 'wedding') corresponds to OFris. jeft fem., gift, MDu. gift(e) (Du. gift fem., gift, gift neut., now more commonly gif, poison), OHG. gift fem., gift, poison (MHG., mod.G. gift fem., gift, neut., poison), ON. gift, usually written gipt gift (Sw., Da. -gift in compounds), pl. giptar a wedding, Goth. -gifts in compounds.... The two words 'gift/Gift' in English and German both have the common germanic ancestor geban 'to give'. The rest is separate development through many centuries. The word for 'to poison' used to be 'vergeben'', but it went out of use because of its homophone meaning 'to forgive', and became 'vergiften'.]

It's a gift a present rather than a presentation because, like it or not, no matter how loudly we protest our detachment, in a (falsely?) friendly act the giver is there, is implicated. The detective calls his suspects to dismiss them: the victim was poisoned by herself, in a single dose from a table service blunder, or absorbed over a lifetime of serial killing.

Speaking of etymology:

[< Anglo-Norman poisoun, Anglo-Norman and Old French poisun, puisun, Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French poison, puison, puisson, Old French poisson, pouson, Middle French poyson (French poison) drink, draught (end of the 11th cent.), poisonous drink (1155), potion, medicinal drink (c1165), poisonous substance (1342) < classical Latin potion-, potio (see POTION n.). Compare Old Occitan, Occitan poison drink, draught (c1150), potion (c1200), poison (early 13th cent.).]

So maybe "Name your poison" isn't such an impressive joke either.

SCOTTIE: "Here, Judy. Drink this straight down, just like medicine."
JUDY: "Why are you doing this? What good will it do?"
SCOTTIE: "I don't know. No good, I guess. I don't know."


you sayin it ought to be the gifted Mr Ripley?

Now there was an artist without regrets!

Jonathan Mayhew kindly writes:

I love that idea that "art-making is certainly more universal than the justifiications for art-making." That encapsulates something I've been trying to get my head around for awhile.

. . .

A Story by Laura Riding, Though Gently

In Delmar 8, editor Jeff Hamilton assembled eleven solid essays on Laura Riding's Though Gently and prefixed a gorgeously precise reprint of the book itself, the first since Riding and Graves hand-pressed 200 copies in 1930. Precision was called for: in Though Gently, Riding composes to the page, filling space with proverbs and poems as if for an almanac, her always disconcertingly intense focus somehow embodied in paper. It may be the damnedest single publication of her damned anti-career.

Because I like her stories and because I have a garden, here is "A Story" from page 16:

As originally printed, with a two-line poem appended

Because he spoke this time answerably the sibyl within this time answered him. Hereafter the place of the sibyl was less terrible to him and his love of her changed from doggedness to optimism. All goes well, he said to himself, and made his home near enough to be able to say that they lived together. The sibyl of course said nothing, letting him congratulate himself so long as he spoke answerably enough to deserve a margin of illusion. He made a garden round them. “This,” he would say to himself, “is our garden.” And the sibyl within did not contradict him so long as he fancied without guile. But he grew designful and persuasive. All his eloquence now went into husbandry; questioning was a mere instrumental rite. Then the sounds of his industry angered the sibyl. “Go away,” she said, “you are disturbing my silence.” He stood puzzled. “But what of the garden?” he asked. “A garden,” she answered, “is not a question. It is your silence, which differs from mine as not to ask differs from not to answer. You may leave off questioning me answerably, but you may not have it that I have no more to say because you give me no more to answer. You may not turn into a fact what is so far only a story.”

. . .

Many of the difficulties of contemporary verse are indeed due to the attempt to reconcile the classical desideratum “dry and hard” with the necessity to experiment

If, however, we examine them as two statements showing a difference of personal temperament in their authors, this hard and fast irreconcilability between romanticism and classicism disappears, and we see them both as somewhat arbitrary distinctions based on the temperamental variations likely to occur in people dealing with what is virtually the same process. Both temperaments may even be found to exist side by side in the same period. Mr. Kiddier is historically a modest contemporary of Mr. Pound’s; and what, after all, does Mr. Kiddier say that Mr. Pound does not? He says that colour is the important thing in painting and that it is a very difficult and subtle medium. To say that it belongs to the fairies is only an extravagant and harmless way of saying that man has trouble in mastering it. To call colour a spiritual thing is merely an extravagant way of saying that, to use it properly, the artist must have high qualities, such as “insight, poignancy, retentiveness, plus the energy” Mr. Pound’s own list of the essentials in the “making of permanent sculpture.” If Mr. Kiddier insists on a first idea, Mr. Pound insists on a main one. The artistic sense relation which for the former should show in the association of trees in a picture is, true enough, defined as a kind of emotional sympathy in the artist rather than as a necessary relationship between the “motifs” employed. But is this not merely a tenderer, more ingenuous version of Mr. Pound’s own ingenuous enough remarks about the “complete thesis of principles” which the perfect statue apparently attains? [...] Romantic language such as Mr. Kiddier’s soon becomes trite after the surprise of its first use wears off; language such as Mr. Pound uses (I do not wish, of course, to suggest that either Mr. Kiddier or Mr. Pound invented their language) soon becomes jargon, which means not only trite but senseless for it is so limited that when it loses its literal sense its metaphorical sense (such as the application to poetry of terms invented for sculpture) becomes purely academic. We shall grow weary (if we have not already) of talk of circles, triangles, spheres, form, planes, stasis and masses sooner than talk of trees put in motion by the wind, fairies, sunbeams, seasons and the passing of centuries.

Shorn of its jargon, is there anything that Mr. Pound says which is not in Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy? He says that the artist makes the mechanical exercises of his art breathe out life, that everything must be in relation (Mr. Kiddier’s word), that the sculptor can make flesh out of stone as the colour-artist gets significant vibrations out of paint. His elaborate explanation of the technical merit of “The Dancer” is really a pedantic evasion of such words as “spirituality” about which Mr. Kiddier, if asked describe this statue, would in his ingenuousness not be squeamish. “The whole form-series ends, passes into statis with the circular base or platform” is merely the basic “sameness” or peacefulness of Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy of art into which variety shall not be introduced for its own sake. A romanticist would paraphrase Gaudier- Brzeska: “The sculptor must feel his subject as a whole and understand it minutely in its parts without allowing its soul to escape. More than this, he must be able to feel and understand with stone as well as with his heart and mind.” Whatever conviction this definition loses by its sentimentality, it gains by its applicability to more than one kind of sculpture [...]

This earnestness in the romanticist easily leads to vulgarity, this self-consciousness in the classicist, to snobbery. The reason why Hulme opposed fancy to the imagination was that he had a snobbish feeling against the imagination from its being associated with many vulgarities, not from any real objection to imagination itself: for fancy to him was merely an improved, more technical, narrower imagination. “Abstract” is another “classical” word that has come to have a thoroughly snobbish connotation. It generally means: lacking in sentimental allusions to fairies, trees, spirituality, time, spring. Likewise “mathematical” and “geometric” prove themselves to mean lacking in vulgar humanity, having non-vital realism. [...] Art, in Hulme’s words, is created to satisfy a desire. The desire appears to be, in theory, the desire for art itself; to create a discontinuity in man by isolating art from nature. So art is not the creation of a fiction, but a very gloomy feeling in man about his own nature. Why this is not a romantic attitude for the romantic includes some very gloomy feelings, indeed, about the nature of man is that the romantic gloomy feelings do not seem to be gloomy or pessimistic enough. [...] Classical art is therefore created to satisfy a desire for gloom which is really, however, a snobbish feeling about romantic gloom.

- Contemporaries and Snobs (1928) by Laura Riding
(ed. Laura Heffernan & Jane Malcolm)

. . .

"pretend you have a mind"

From Everybody's Letters, Collected and Arranged by Laura Riding (1933):

Myrtle Cottage,

Dear Lilith Outcome,

Now, now, don’t take offence where no offence was ever meant! The invitation to “your lady” was only by way of courtesy to a person I’d never met but hoped to meet not at all, as you read it, a sexual label. It’s a common form you know, so common indeed that I use it even to people I do know, saying for instance to Alan Thompson or Michael Henderson “I hope you’ll come for a week-end and bring your lady with you.” Up to date they have usually come nor have they requested me to avoid the term. However if amendment will assure you that I am still the same old Johnny Archer whom Hubey was not disinclined to call friend in the old days, here goes Dear Miss Outcome and dear Godfrey, won’t you please come and see us some time? Is that all right? I hope so.

And now Lilith Outcome a word or two of the gentlest with you. About that Boy. I am quite innocent there. He is a fine thinker for his age and wanted advice on what books to read. I said “I’ve just dipped into a book called Modern Literary Conventions, and it seems to me an interesting and stimulating affair. My friend Hubey Pitt had a hand in it. I know Hubey but I don’t know the girl he wrote it with nor have I read her other work for the good and simple reason that I hardly have a moment to read anything nor always the money to buy books. I should read Modern Literary Conventions, for it gogs one up!” Such more or less I imagine were my words. So Lilith Outcome don’t get waxy with a harmless and harried soldier of the pen who doesn’t know a thing about you except that you and Hubey Pitt are hand-in-fist and eye-to-eye pals towards whom I feel a friendly feeling (a) because I know Hubey’s even more particular than I am in the matter of pals (b) because I know Hubey’s ditto ditto over writers. Now Lilith Outcome is that all right? If it isn’t write another waxy one, and having boxed one ear, box the other : I can stand a lot from friends of friends of mine and from writers. And listen to me, Lilith Outcome, our lives are very short and mine is likely to be no longer than most people’s. You say “H. P. and I are not above being annoyed by this kind of thing,” and I reply isn’t it rather a waste of time, not to speak of an absence of magnanimity? We are not here so long that the sun should have cause to smile at us and not on us. Listen, Lilith Outcome, you and I are fallible human beings but as writers we have something that is rare in common and by Jeronimo I have no intention of allowing my soreness in the human affecting (if I can help it) the communion of the rare thing we have in common. There does not breathe a friend of mine who has had power to leave a lasting hurt, though I have had my shins bruised in my time, because I won’t let ’em : friendship comes first. So Lilith Outcome, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and having, if you wish, caused my other ear to ring and sting, smile, smile, smile upon

Yours happily,
Johnny Archer.


Dear John Archer,

I am going to make a few statements to you about myself because you have made a few generalisations about me on my behalf. And there is no use in your saying, What a pity, in the name of literature can’t she let anything pass, and so on. It is just one of the laws of the universe that you will have to accept : that when you make a generalisation on my behalf you get a particularisation back. It just happens. For convenience please think of me, as I am sometimes described, as an automaton.

You make the generalisation on my behalf that, if I realised what a very common form of expression “your lady” was in your world, I would not mind its application to me. The particularisation you get back is that I resist its application to me the more common a form it is in your world. In my world in rendering an invitation to a woman it is not customary to add “and bring your gentleman” any more than it is to say “and bring your nightgown.” In my world it is a matter of indifference whether one wears a nightgown or not. In my world, in fact, there are only this person and that person, not people and nightgowns. Then you make the generalisation that I am a “girl.” The particular statement you get back is that since you are uncertain of the exact term to apply to me, it is not in your power to offer me an acceptable term. It is clear from your letter that you would not mind my calling you “boy.” But I submit that you have no basis for the implied generalisation in your letter that the term “girl” is more acceptable to me than the term “lady.” There are certain occasions when it might conceivably be, but I submit further that they do not come within the area of our correspondence. You will perhaps understand all this better if you remember that I am an automaton, with only precise responses. If the stimulus is careless, the response is nevertheless precise precisely unfriendly. An old Negro in Africa once called me a portent. As an automaton with merely immediate effectiveness, I had no response whatever to that. Portent may be the right word for Africa, and a continent, moreover, is not quite capable of producing a stimulus. But I defy you to name the right continent for “lady” etc., so far as I am concerned. End of second statement.

You make the observation on my behalf that I ought at least to do you physical injury, by way of friendly response, if the automaton me fails to yield a charming forgive-all and forget-all. The answer to that is that my response to a stimulus is always just so strong, and no stronger, according to the strength of the stimulus. I cannot hate you as a compensation for not loving you, even by special request. You make the observation that my life is short. The answer is that my life is, in respect to the fatigability of my responsive mechanism, everlasting. You make the observation that I am wasting time. The statement you get back is that I don’t know what you mean by time, unless you mean my time, and by that that there is a limit to my resources. My resources are the energy from which my responses derive, and that is only limited by the number of stimuli that evoke it; and my supply of paper, pen, and ink, and that is equally illimitable. So don’t worry about me. You make the observation on my behalf that I should have magnanimity. The statement you get back is that I wouldn’t accept that even from Africa. If magnanimity is an occupational deformity that writers are supposed to suffer from, namely, word-tiredness, then I am not a writer. You make the observation that the sun might possibly have cause to smile at me instead of on me. The statement you get back is that me and the sun we smile at each other in the game that any two can play at. You make the observation that I am fallible. That is untrue. It is a pity that, being fallible, you should have chosen a profession demanding infallibility and bound to bring you into contact with infallible people who cannot but hurt your feelings. My own infallibility, for example, makes me rather rude to the fallible when it gets pally.

You make the observation that we have something rare in common. The statement you get back is that what I have is not rare but, on the contrary, the only thing there is to have, all the rest being but flesh and friendship; and that the people I have it in common with are all the people there are to the degree that they don’t think it rare even though they have precious little of it. As to soreness, which seems a favourite topic of yours, I myself do not feel it : I am always too busy making responses to feel anything. My response to a stimulus that is merely somebody’s rough stuff accidentally bruising my shins is merely to remind myself that my shins are a part of my mind not my body that I have not, in fact, a body, that I have not, in fact, been bruised at all. Since you are so fated to shin-bruises, that might be a useful doctrine for you to adopt as an attitude, if not as a fact of your constitution : pretend that you have a mind. That will at least enable you to keep your sufferings to yourself and make people treat you as a superior heartless being whose shins it is really no fun to bruise, since it doesn’t hurt you.

You have written me a hit-the-heart-in-the-bull’s-eye letter, but you see I haven’t a heart.

Lilith Outcome.


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