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My favorite kind of snark

I don't really follow sport writers. The exception is Jonathan Wilson, less because of what he writes about (soccer, with an emphasis on the Premier League, as he writes for The Guardian) than because of how he writes about it [source]:
Attack, attack, attack.

Under Louis van Gaal, Manchester United attacked. They often attacked in a way that would excite only the most purist of Dutchmen, retaining possession with a risk-averse monotony that brought the very term “attacking” to semantic crisis, but it was attacking. There was a plan, even if it was dull and predictable.

Attack, attack, attack.


[...]retaining possession with a risk-averse monotony that brought the very term “attacking” to semantic crisis[...] is quite a nice turn of phrase.

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Quote search help

My search-foo is failing me miserably. I have a very strong memory about an anecdote of a philosopher (? and/or soldier?) who was about to cross a desert (one of Alexander's desert crossings, maybe?) and poured all of his water, saying something like (but only like, as Google returns nothing) If I'm going to be thirsty, I'm already (let me already be?) thirsty. I thought this was from Borges, but I can't find it.

Any help/tips/pointer will be more than welcome.

ETA: Found it! It was a Borges poem.


Antes de entrar en el desierto
los soldados bebieron largamente el agua de la cisterna.
Hierocles derramó en la tierra
el agua de su cántaro y dijo:
Si hemos de entrar en el desierto,
ya estoy en el desierto.
Si la sed va a abrasarme,
que ya me abrase.

Ésta es una parábola.
Antes de hundirme en el infierno
los lictores del dios me permitieron que mirara una rosa.
Esa rosa es ahora mi tormento
en el oscuro reino.
A un hombre lo dejó una mujer.
Resolvieron mentir un último encuentro.
El hombre dijo:
Si debo entrar en la soledad
ya estoy solo.
Si la sed va a abrasarme,
que ya me abrase.

Ésta es otra parábola.
Nadie en la tierra
tiene el valor de ser aquel hombre.

(El Desierto)

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Although sometimes, e.g. in The Hollow Men, the poem is short enough to be practically built up on those phrases. And, alright, Four Quartets isn't a short poem by any means, yet most of it reads as elegantly unfolded haikus. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, here's in one from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
of insidious intent.



"Tedious argument of insidious intent" is one of those phrases that, by precisely describing something, defines in your mind a new concept that slightly changes how you perceive the world; it gives a label to something, and hence (subjectively speaking) creates something new. That's the magic trick of poetry, mathematics, and pretty much all conceptual work in science.

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Aug. 5th, 2018

The first line of the first story in Allingham Margery's Mr. Campion's Lucky Day and Other Stories:

Dornford killed Fellowes somewhere in Australia. Apart from the fact that it was a reprehensible sort of thing to do anyway, it was particularly unpleasant because they were friends and it was done for gain.


The rest of the book goes pretty much like that. I enjoyed reading the stories; no masterpieces there, I think, and perhaps closer to the third than to the first rank of detective/ghost/etc short fiction, but well-crafted and pleasant.

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Well, of course.

Paradise Lost, Book ii, line 666 (where else?). Behold Death.


[...] The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joynt, or limb,
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd,
For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night,
Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,
And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his head
The likeness of a Kingly Crown had on.


Appropriately Lovecraftian, I'd say. But note that Satan (so call him now, his former name is heard no more in Heav'n) was, to say the least, unimpressed.

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I can relate

A very good turn of phrase from The Debt of Shame:

In any case, the combination of impotence and guilt leads to shame: the sense of being morally stained by something one cannot help.


The article — on the intersection and relationship between personal shame and structural social injustice — is interesting on its own, and not a little topical.

Yes.


Yet who reads to bring about an end, however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practise because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards–their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble–the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."


Virginia Woolf, the last paragraph of How Should One Read a Book?

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From Venice: A Literary Companion

It's an intensely charming book full of the kind of mostly true history that would sound unrealistic most everywhere else.

Here's a letter fragment from Byron, after retelling one of his anecdotes (and actually a tame one):


You need not be alarmed – jealousy is not the order of the day in Venice, and daggers are out of fashion; while duels, on love matters, are unknown — at least, with husbands.


I love those last four words.

By the way, you could teach an entire course or write a very nice book about modern literature just based on that little traveling group of freewheeling debauchery: Percy Shelley, the radical Romantic poet, Lord Byron, who sort of invented (a modern version of) the scandalously hedonistic and stunt-prone international superstar artist, John Polidori, who invented (not the original, but certainly) the modern vampire tale probably just because he was somewhat fed up with said superstar, and nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley, who just said you bunch of amateurs and wrote the seminal science fiction story we're still getting our heads around and kind of using as a to-do list.

There's nothing in this that I don't find both implausible and hilariously inspiring. It makes me feel like going to everybody who thinks literary history is about ponderous Hegelian dialectic developments and tell them "No, no, it was about sex-obsessed superstars, and sardonic doctors, and genius young women, and a volcano had cooled down the planet that year, and then there was this storm, you see. And then the superstar went to lead a guerrilla war and drowned, but that was later."

Seriously, at times I don't know why we bother with alternate history.

A funny quote, and a terrifying one

From The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History, on the training of cheetahs for hunting. After finding the prey, they unleash the cheetah (very funny fact: the cheetah rode on the same horse as his handler, sitting on the back) and set their


head toward the Prey; if he sees it, he gives a shriek, leaps down, falls on the Beast, and pulls it down; if he missed it he is commonly discouraged, and stops; the Master goes to him, comforts him, makes much of him, and tells him it is not his Fault, and that he had not been set directly before the Beast. They say he [the cat] understands that Excuse, and is satisfied with it.


Anybody who ever owned a cat will recognize the situation.

And from Eliot's The Dry Salvages:


The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable
Prayer of the one Annunciation.


As usual, Eliot's theology is terrifying (and insane for any self-professed Catholic). Death its God is bleak in a relatively naive way, but Prayer of the one Annunciation in that context is starkly existentialist, even and more so because it's not secular.

The more I reread Four Quartets, the more interesting I find it.

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Pastoral nomadism as a lifeway was (and still is) a flexible strategy enabled by co-community with herd animals and the cultural embedding of mobility (Honeychurch and Amartuvshin 2007; Frachetti 2008). These adaptations created social and productive expertise in socio-spatial dynamics and movement that included ways of binding together and maintaining human communities in the face of geographic dispersal. I argue that this capacity gave a unique spatial and temporal foundation for social relationships among Inner Asian nomads, and as a result, we should expect that politics and statehood assumed quite different configurations from those of sedentary and agricultural peoples. (Inner Asia and the Spatial Politics of Empire)


That's a fascinating concept: social technologies that aren't just sedentary social ties stretched over long distances, but rather purpose-built, so to speak, with distance in mind.


The physical destruction is conceptualized in the City Laments as an expression of the destruction of the mythological infrastructure of the city’s existence. Thus, what are actually being destroyed are the city’s ‘plans’ (ĝišhur), ‘rituals’ (ĝarza), and ‘rational judgment’ (umuš, ĝalga, or dim). Above all, the city loses its me, the divine essence that is the basis of its cultural, social, and religious institutions and enables its existence. (The Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur)


I can't overstate how gleeful that makes me. Not the destruction of Ur, I hasten to say (I got nothing against them), but the idea that (at least priestly) Sumerians thought of the physical end of a city as first taking place in the realm of mythology and ideas. Destroy its plans (as in blueprints? gods, what a concept), its rituals, and its rational judgement (John Boyd would approve), and then the walls will fall. It's an idea of sheer beauty, and you an see it echoing (or echoes sharing a same root) all through history.

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