Wednesday, May 16, 2007

summer stupor

Almost a week & a half into my own summer vacation, what for way too many of my colleagues is the first summer term – & aside from a week’s worth of paper-sorting & -shredding & -tossing out, nothing of any real moment accomplished. Read Carl Rollyson’s A Higher Form of Cannibalism?: Adventures in the Art and Politics of Biography (Ivan R. Dee, 2005), a deeply uninspired set of meditations on writing lives; makes me think that I too could toss out a not-too-smart book on biography in a few weeks’ heavy work. Chapter 1: Milton, divorce, marriage in Paradise Lost; Chapter 2: Stephen Dedalus as the young James Joyce, ironic distance in Portrait & Ulysses; Chapter 3: TS Eliot’s bad marriage & The Waste Land; Chapter 4: Paul Celan, Martin Heidegger, & “Todtnauberg.” 200 pp. manuscript, with a ruminative pipe & brandy introduction.
***
The most astonishing thing I’ve read about TS Eliot & anti-Semitism in a long time: Denis Donoghue, commenting (in Words Alone) on the (in)famous passage from After Strange Gods, “reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable”:
Eliot’s social philosophy at this point is no more questionable than if he were to say, alive and writing now, that reasons of race and religion combine to make it undesirable that any large number of Palestinians should live in the predominantly Jewish state of Israel, or undesirable that a large number of Irish Catholics nationalists should live in the predominantly Protestant and loyalist Northern Ireland, or that a large number of ethnic Albanians should live in Serbia. The resultant heterogeneity, it would be reasonable to say, is bad for everybody, including the dominant party.
Slobodan Milosevic or Ian Paisley couldn’t have said it better. That, my friends, is the quality of “reasonableness” that will get you a named chair at New York University.
***
We had the cat put to sleep today; Aphra had been creaking about the house with increasing difficulty over the past few weeks, & the blood tests showed almost total kidney failure – a kind of systemic poisoning. A good long life – 18 years – by my estimate, probably 12 or 14 of them spent sleeping in the sun. The vet was decent enough to pay a house call for the euthanization, & I drove up with the girls – both primed with a long talk from their mother – just as he was finishing up. He was stepping out to his vehicle (an incongruously huge pickup with 5-foot monster-truck tires), having just administered the injection, carrying a little medical bag.

Pippa (5): I know what you’ve got in that bag!
Vet: Oh, do you?
Pippa: My cat!

As he drove off a quarter hour later with Aphra’s limp grey form wrapped gently in a towel, Daphne (3) stood on the front step for some minutes, waving from the wrist: “Bye-bye, Afree, bye-bye.”

4 comments:

Amy said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Aphra... yes a good long life, that's for sure. Still...

Archambeau said...

That quote from Donoghue provides one more grain of evidence that Martha Nussbaum is right when she says (in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed):

"The real 'clash of civilizations' is not between 'Islam' and 'the West,' but instead within virtually all modern nations — between people who are prepared to live on terms of equal respect with others who are different, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity and the domination of a single "pure" religious and ethnic tradition."

We know which side Donoghue was on.

Bob

Paul Sweeney said...

I am just approaching the end of "words alone" and the point that is being raised here in this post is pretty much about multi-culturalism and/vs the idea of a "purely" Christian society. In context Denis was making a point about the cultural baseline that Eliot was establishing his aesthetic upon. However, one has to say, it was left rather uncontested in the book, and I was unconvinced by the rationale of his "squatting jew".
I would welcome any form of extended conversation online about this work.

Steven Moore said...

It is possible to give a cat close to total kidney failure at least a few extra quality months with weekly injections of both vitamin B12 and nandralone. We had a veterinarian friend who generously kept our cat going well over a year on this cocktail. When death finally came it was quick and beautiful.