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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of Spenser.

It would be interesting to take one of the vast famous passages of the work and show how these devices are fitted together into larger units of rhythm, but having said that every use of the stanza includes all these uses in the reader’s apprehension of it I may have said enough to show the sort of methods Spenser had under his control; why it was not necessary for him to concentrate on the lightning flashes of ambiguity.

The size, the possible variety, and the fixity of this unit give something of the blankness that comes from fixing your eyes on a bright spot; you have to yield yourself to it very completely to take in the variety of its movement, and, at the same time, there is no need to concentrate the elements of the situation into a judgment as if for action. As a result of this, when there are ambiguities of idea, it is whole civilisations rather than details of the moment which are their elements; he can pour into the even dreamwork of his f--ryland Christian, classical, and chivalrous materials with an air, not of ignoring their differences, but of holding all their systems of values floating as if at a distance, so as not to interfere with one another, in the prolonged and diffused energies of his mind.

William Empson

—posted 22 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of cruelty.

Many years ago, a deeply religious Roman Catholic friend said to me, with some irritation, “Why must you liberals bring everything down to cruelty?” What could he have meant? He was, and is, the most gentle and kindly of men, and a principled defender of political freedom and social reform. As a Christian, he obviously regarded cruelty as a dreadful vice. He was not defending cruelty or abandoning liberal politics; rather, he was explicitly rejecting the mentality that does not merely abhor brutality, but that regards cruelty as the summum malum, the most evil of all evils. And he was reminding me that, although intuitively, most of us might agree about right and wrong, we also, and of far more significance, differ enormously in a way we rank the virtues and vices. Those who put cruelty first, as he guessed, do not condemn it as a sin. They have all but forgotten the Seven Deadly Sins, especially those that do not involve cruelty. Sins are transgressions of a divine rule and offenses against God; pride, as the rejection of God, must always be the worst one, which gives rise to all the others. Cruelty, as the wilful inflicting of physical pain on a weaker being in order to cause anguish and fear, however, is a wrong done entirely to another creature. When it is marked as a supreme evil, it is judged so in and of itself, and not because it signifies a rejection of God or any other higher norm. It is a judgement made from within a world where cruelty occurs as part both of our normal private life and our daily public practice. By putting it irrevocably first—with nothing above it, and with nothing to excuse or forgive acts of cruelty—one closes off any appeal to any order other than that of actuality.

Judith N. Shklar

—posted 30 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of prepositions.

The process of becoming accustomed to a new author is very much that of learning what to exclude in this way, and this first of the three “facts,” hard as it may be to explain in detail, is one with which appreciative critics are accustomed to deal very effectively. But the other two are more baffling; one can say little about the quality of a language, if only because the process of describing it in its own language is so top-heavy, and the words of another language will not describe it. The English prepositions, for example, from being used in so many ways and in combination with so many verbs, have acquired not so much a number of meanings as a body of meaning continuous in several dimensions; a tool-like quality, at once thin, easy to the hand, and weighty, which a mere statement of their variety does not convey. In a sense all words have a body of this sort; none can be reduced to a finite number of points, and if they could the points could not be conveyed by words.

William Empson

—posted 38 days ago


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Decimation.

As of the last day of last year, the first draft of no. 35 was done. As of today, the editing pass is done; some tuck and polish and boom. Patrons have already seen the “track listing,” as it were; that brief chapter header that’ll lead you astray if you let it make you think it’s telling you what’s to come. I should be releasing the chapter itself to patrons and paying customers early next week, I think. To the rest of the world on or about February 8th, I should think. See you then.

They say that writing a book doesn’t teach you anything about writing books; all you’ll ever learn, if you’re lucky, and paying attention, is how to write the book you’re writing. I was weirdly conscious of this, writing no. 35: each scene as I figured it out unfolded something that changed the earlier scenes, or will once I re-write them. What was odd about it is this sort of energy usually drives me to scowl and rip things out by the roots and re-do them. This time I was moved instead to just, take the occasional note, and otherwise let it be.

And as I edited this chapter, the reasons perhaps for why began to hove into something of a view: the changes needed, on the level of a word, or a sentence, were small enough. But the shifts they ended up engendering, in focus, in drive, in direction—these small (enormous) mysteries are why I keep getting up, of a morning.

Anyway: sit you down, you English Merchants, Factors, and Travailers. Whole Truth does with our Spirits hold Commerse.

—posted 49 days ago


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(Originally posted on the Patreon.)

Things to keep in mind:
The secret of fantasies.

And yet fantasies only make sense in relation to the nightmares they’re suppressing. I’m not saying The Queen’s Gambit has incredible wallpaper because it wants to make you forget about The Yellow Wallpaper (though it does have incredible, eye-catching wallpaper and there are reasons why Charlotte Perkins Gilman picked that trope). But take a show like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: without the specter of Woody Allen, #MeToo, and the pervasive sexism of stand-up comedy, since forever, the premise of a magical perfect lady comedian in the ’60s wouldn’t even make sense. It wouldn’t satisfy; without something it was struggling to absorb, digest, dissolve, and defuse, you’d simply wonder—as I’ve been wondering, falling asleep to Emily in Paris—what exactly is this show is trying to do? Why is it here?

Aaron Bady

—posted 87 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the sentence.

The axiom is that the mark of poetic intelligence or vocation is passion for language, which is thought to mean delirious response to language’s smallest communicative unit: to the word. The poet is supposed to be the person who can’t get enough of words like “incarnadine.” This was not my experience. From the time, at four or five or six, I first started reading poems, first thought of the poets I read as my companions, my predecessors—from the beginning I preferred the simplest vocabulary. What fascinated me were the possibilities of context. What I responded to, on the page, was the way a poem could liberate, by means of a word’s setting, through subtleties of timing, of pacing, that word’s full and surprising range of meaning. It seemed to me that simple language best suited this enterprise; such language, in being generic, is likely to contain the greatest and most dramatic variety of meaning within individual words. I liked scale, but I liked it invisible. I loved those poems that seemed so small on the page but that swelled in the mind; I didn’t like the windy, dwindling kind. Not surprisingly, the sort of sentence I was drawn to, which reflected these tastes and native habit of mind, was paradox, which has the added advantage of nicely rescuing the dogmatic nature from a too moralizing rhetoric.

Louise Glück

—posted 95 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of a beautiful house.

The thing about a beautiful house is to make it untidy every day. I wake up in the morning and I see the mess and I love it. That’s the way that I like to live.

Francis Mallmann

—posted 103 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of information.

Every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it. The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the events is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.

Walter Benjamin

—posted 120 days ago


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Eleventy.

The first draft of no. 34, “ – up and stand.” is now done! Three cheers and the rest, huzzah. Sixteen thousand, three hundred ten words, and the usual caveats in re: the cutting and the molding to be done.

The last time I finished the first draft of the opening chapter of a new volume, it was no. 23, and it originally came in sixteen thousand and thirty-six, trimmed to a svelte fourteen thousand, seven hundred thirty; but more to the point, the last time I finished the first draft of the opening chapter of a new volume, it was October of 2014. —Before that, it was 2011.

Considering how much further there is to go, I need to pick the pace back up.

At least it can be said that, after a couple of false starts in May and June, this one was written through two and a half months or so, and the majority of it in September, with all of [gestures] this going on, so. There’s that.

—posted 125 days ago


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(Originally posted on the Patreon.)

Things to keep in mind:
The secret of surprise.

That was a big lesson from Peter Shaffer. We went to see a play once about the mad queen of Spain and in the first act there were two rapes, an evisceration, a fire and something horrifying with a child, I don’t remember. And at the end of the first act I said, “This is so much my kind of thing. Why am I bored?” He said, “There’s no surprise.” And I thought, “Put that on your bathroom mirror.” Surprise: if it’s in the lyric, the unexpected word, the unexpected note, the unexpected incident. The unexpected, the unexpected, that’s what theater is about. If you had to patent one thing in the theater, it’s surprise.

Stephen Sondheim

—posted 128 days ago


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