Monday, July 01, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again, or, Gene Autry never mentioned the sores!

Though I make no promises, tonight marks an attempt to get back to blogging more reliably following my Getaway Car–induced slowdown. (I've turned in the manuscript, and while there are still many hurdles still to leap, things are moving along nicely--and best of all, I really like the book as it's come together. In the course of assembling it, re-arranging it, and typing large parts of it, I've read the whole thing probably three times now, and I find myself enjoying Donald Westlake's company just as much every time--a good sign.) There's a better than reasonable chance that upcoming travels and work stress will keep me from returning to a regular schedule until autumn, well, to quote Sampson Starkweather, "It's true, people cannot be trusted / but do it anyway. It's great! Trust me."

As with any pursuit you let lie fallow for a while, it takes a bit of stretching and plodding to get back into it. Neglected muscles grumble; skills, disregarded, refuse to answer the call. (You should--or, more properly, shouldn't--hear me at the piano after a week on the road. Good god.)

So for tonight, I'll merely praise Malcolm Bradbury's Eating People Is Wrong (1959), a book that, as a mid-fifties campus comedy, molders unfairly in the shadow of Lucky Jim. Oh, there's no doubt that Lucky Jim is the better, funnier book, but more than a half-century on from the publication of the two, I think there's room enough for both. As I ease back into all this nonsense, I'll likely share a number of passages from it that made me laugh out loud. For now, however, I'll simply share two invocations of Shakespeare, both of which get at the genius at the book's heart--the attempt to portray the ultimate dilemma facing the liberal intellectual: once we admit that all can (and should) be doubted, where can we find firm footing, and how can we ever hope to move beyond self-criticism (and self-analysis to support that criticism) to grapple with the world as such? (The title sums it up brilliantly: Yes, eating people is clearly wrong, but when one considers . . . )

Herewith, passage one:
There are people to whom life seems so simple, and so pleasantly simple, that when you look at them you wonder, "Well, look, perhaps I just haven't through this through far enough--I, and Shakespeare, and the rest of us."
It would be a good line, a funny line, if its only joke was the so-English diffidence of "Well, look, perhaps." But the late, and, one assumes, reluctant, invocation of Shakespeare raises it to genius.

Then there's this:
Of course, in a way Hamlet was a man of action--look how he was always killing people.
I know that this isn't necessarily the aspiration of all comic writing, but is there any higher praise than this: that line could have been delivered by Bertie Wooster.

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