Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Reading Assignment for Obama & Congress

To the legislators of 2011 and most especially the candidates of 2012, I offer this excerpt from Charles Dickens's LITTLE DORRIT:

Containing the whole Science of Government

Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving--HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which it invariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always acted on it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the public departments; and the public condition had risen to be--what it was.

It is true that How not to do it was the great study and object of all public departments and professional politicians all round the Circumlocution Office. It is true that every new premier and every new government, coming in because they had upheld a certain thing as necessary to be done, were no sooner come in than they applied their utmost faculties to discovering How not to do it. It is true that from the moment when a general election was over, every returned man who had been raving on hustings because it hadn't been done, and who had been asking the friends of the honourable gentleman in the opposite interest on pain of impeachment to tell him why it hadn't been done, and who had been asserting that it must be done, and who had been pledging himself that it should be done, began to devise, How it was not to be done. It is true that the debates of both Houses of Parliament the whole session through, uniformly tended to the protracted deliberation, How not to do it. It is true that the royal speech at the opening of such session virtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have a considerable stroke of work to do, and you will please to retire to your respective chambers, and discuss, How not to do it. It is true that the royal speech, at the close of such session, virtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have through several laborious months been considering with great loyalty and patriotism, How not to do it, and you have found out; and with the blessing of Providence upon the harvest (natural, not political), I now dismiss you. All this is true, but the Circumlocution Office went beyond it.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Back to Mr. Dickens

I kept thinking how much the US Congress dickering over the debt ceiling is just like Dickens's Circumlocution Office, with all the talk of why "it can't be done." So I put aside Susan Isaacs's LILY WHITE, which was boring me, in favor of LITTLE DORRIT, which isn't.

The cinematic opening, which I looked for in vain when I watched the BBC series, fits right in with the breathless weather we're having:
Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day. A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.

There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the quays had not cooled, night or day, for months.
This may be the last time I read my Penguin paperback edition, which I bought in 1984, as the pages keep fluttering out of the cracked binding. It's odd to have a book that I remember buying new to be looking--and especially smelling--so old.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Strange & Beautiful: Kevin Wilson & THE FAMILY FANG

The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson’s debut novel from Ecco Press, opens with:
Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. "You make a mess and then you walk away from it," their daughter, Annie, told them.
And what a mess Caleb and Camille Fang have made of Annie and her younger brother Buster! Labeled “Child A” and “Child B,” from infancy they were pressed into service—not always willingly, or even wittingly—as key players in their parents’ notorious performance art pieces.

Having attended art school and hung around the Manhattan art/music scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I came of age with people like Caleb and Camille Fang. I was curious how Kevin Wilson managed to capture them and their milieu with such piercing, tragicomic accuracy....
More at Wild River Review