Fruit flies trespassing !!

Today, this blog received a terribly interesting comment:

Hvor træls for ham. Forhåbentlig møder han op til de samme klassekammerater, som han gik i 0. med sidste år imorgen. Flotte frugtposer. Bananfluer adgang forbudt !!

Google Translate helpfully identifies the language as Danish, and the syntax as fractured:

How træls for him. Forhà ¥ hopefully he encounters with the same classmates, as he went 0 with last year ¥ s tomorrow. Beautiful fruit bags. Fruit flies trespassing !!

It is very good of this drive-by commenter (who is, I assume, not one of the 3.6 Loyal Readers) to warn me about the trespasses of fruit flies. Presumably they are doing it in aid of the beautiful fruit bags, or perhaps concealed inside of them. How træls for him. How very træls indeed.

Upon sober second thought, I have decided not to allow the comment to stand in its original place, but to immortalize it here, without the accompanying link.

 


 

In other news, I have been consulting my monstrous regiment of M.D.s, and they have concluded to keep me on vitamin D (which I have been taking lately) and renoberate my other medications, in the interest of preventing me from occasionally lapsing into narcolepsy. This should improve my ability to Get Work Done. I am still on the last stages of foot-slogging, or rather footnote-slogging, through Style is the Rocket; after which I shall probably put together a little collection of short fiction, tentatively entitled The Worm of the Ages and Other Tails.

‘April Fools’

MASH-title-180

M*A*S*H: A writer’s view. #14 in the series.


M*A*S*H, as I have mentioned before, reached a grand climacteric in 1979. Before that, while the series gradually changed in tone, becoming more dramatic and less consistently funny, it remained substantially the same show that Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds had created. Actors left the cast, but new characters were invented to replace them; writers left the show’s stable, but new talent was recruited. The newer writers were not in the same league as Gelbart, Laurence Marks, or Greenbaum and Fritzell; but they were quite good enough to ensure the smooth running of the machine that those more gifted hands had built.

After 1979, the show stopped developing altogether. [Read more...]

When to cut a manuscript

Those who are regular followers of the doings of Arthur Dent may have received an impression of his character and habits which, while it includes the truth and, of course, nothing but the truth, falls somewhat short, in its composition, of the whole truth in all its glorious aspects.

And the reasons for this are obvious. Editing, selection, the need to balance that which is interesting with that which is relevant and cut out all the tedious happenstance.

Like this for instance. ‘Arthur Dent went to bed. He went up the stairs, all fifteen of them, opened the door, went into his room, took off his shoes and socks and then all the rest of his clothes one by one and left them in a neatly crumpled heap on the floor. He put on his pyjamas, the blue ones with the stripe. He washed his face and hands, cleaned his teeth, went to the lavatory, realized that he had once again got this all in the wrong order, had to wash his hands again and went to bed. He read for fifteen minutes, spending the first ten minutes of that trying to work out where in the book he had got to the previous night, then he turned out the light and within a minute or so more was asleep.

‘It was dark. He lay on his left side for a good hour.

‘After that he moved restlessly in his sleep for a moment and then turned over to sleep on his right side. Another hour after this his eyes flickered briefly and he slightly scratched his nose, though there was still a good twenty minutes to go before he turned back on to his left side. And so he whiled the night away, sleeping.

‘At four he got up and went to the lavatory again. He opened the door to the lavatory…’ and so on.

It’s guff. It doesn’t advance the action. It makes for nice fat books such as the American market thrives on, but it doesn’t actually get you anywhere. You don’t, in short, want to know.

—Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Coming attractions

I am happy to report that my health is taking a mild turn for the better, and I am once again able to work with some semblance of regularity.

Tonight I returned to my series of essais on M*A*S*H, and finished the draft of a post analysing the eighth-season episode, ‘April Fools’. (It seemed like a good time of year for it.) I shall put it up as soon as I go back and insert all the fiddly formatting code for the screenplay bits.

In other news, I have almost completed the final edit on Style is the Rocket. What remains now, chiefly, is the tedious job of collating my sources and writing up the bibliography and endnotes. I shall spread this work over the next week or two, because it is time-consuming and desperately dull. But deo volente, I shall have a new book out in April.

The antidote to arrogance

The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover just how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.

—Paul Johnson

On literary fiction

What you have to remember about ‘literary’ is that it could be defined as ‘things that college professors will read on a train’. I.e. ‘literary’ is an aspirational mark, a mark of prestige. The book might or might not have a plot (or a prayer of making sense) but it is generally viewed as ‘difficult’, ‘prestigious’, and ‘saying the right things’, and by right I mean political and social views as a positional good, which in the twentieth century has mostly hinged on being properly LEFT. And the twentieth century persists in critical and literary analysis, two notoriously conservative (in the proper sense of the word) fields.

Sarah A. Hoyt

Why not just throw the book at them?

I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.

—Susan Hill

(Hat tip to The Passive Voice)

I respond:

I love the book. I love the weight of it in my hand, the heft of it. I especially love the hardcover book, the stiffness of the boards under the cloth. The satisfying thwack! it makes when I knock a book fetishist on the noggin with it. You can’t hit fools upside the head with an ebook.

Happy New Year

But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Catholic tradition holds, on reasonably secure grounds, that Jesus was crucified on the twenty-fifth of March; which makes it the feast day of St. Dismas. That is the name assigned by tradition to the robber who was crucified with him, to whom he said, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ By a happy coincidence, I am writing this in a year when Good Friday falls on March 25: a rare event.

It is also the Feast of the Annunciation. On somewhat less secure, but still reasonable grounds, the Church calculates that Jesus was born on December 25; which means, in round numbers, that he must have been conceived somewhere around March 25, and the angel who broke the news to Mary is therefore thought to have appeared on that date. This fits in with the ancient Jewish tradition that great sages and prophets lived an exact number of years, being born (or conceived) and dying on the same day of the year.

There are more fanciful associations. For instance, some have supposed that Adam and Eve were created on March 25. I ask the skeptical among my 3.6 Loyal Readers to suspend their unbelief momentarily for the sake of a good story. Supposing that there were an Adam and Eve, and that they were created on the same day (which even Genesis does not tell us), they lived long before the invention of fixed calendars; so that even if they knew the exact time of year at which they were born, and told their children, the information could not have been passed on to the authors of the Torah. The language of the Hebrew calendar is too new, the calendar itself too recent, to convey data directly from so remote a source. You could suppose that God gave the information to the author of that passage in Genesis; but then, Genesis does not tell us any exact date either. Even the most enthusiastic and credulous believer, I am afraid, has to surrender this particular story as a pious taradiddle.

In the Middle Ages in Christendom – not everywhere, not always, but certainly in the official records of the Church – March 25 was treated as New Year’s Day in commemoration of these events, real and legendary; with the odd result that March 24, 1066 (to pick a year not quite at random), was almost a year after March 25, 1066. This peculiar system persisted until Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, bringing it back in step with the seasons, and incidentally moving the New Year back to January 1, the start of the old Roman consular year.

The Protestant and Orthodox countries stuck to the Julian calendar for some time yet; England went over to the new system in 1752, which by that time meant dropping eleven days from that year, so that March 25 of the old calendar corresponded with April 5 of the new. In 1800, the old and new calendars diverged by one more day, so the British Parliament made a special enactment that the tax year would start on April 6 instead; but they did not trouble themselves to move it to April 7 in 1900. That is why, to this day, the British tax year begins on the sixth day of April, to the lasting exasperation of accountants, taxpayers, and all tidy-minded persons.

‘Thinning’, as The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy calls it, does not only occur in fantasy fiction; we often find it in real life. The old Catholic New Year has thinned to a shadow, and all that remains of it now is a bizarre tax regulation in Britain, which hardly even pretends to be a Christian country. One of the few people to recall the old New Year and the old reasons for it was Tolkien, who deliberately chose that date for the defeat of Sauron and the beginning of the Fourth Age; so the reason for the date passes over into myths and old wives’ tales. But as Tolkien made Celeborn say—

Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.

Still, I bid you all a happy and glorious New Year in the Old Style (with Gregory’s correction), and in company of the old wives of Oxenford; and I add a prayer for any of my readers who may chance to be British, and in the clutches of the Inland Revenue. God bless you all.

The quality of not thinking

When people do not stop and think through certain issues, it does not matter whether those people are geniuses or morons, because the quality of the thinking that they would have done is a moot point.

—Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (4th ed.)

The deplorable redemption of bebop

Some time ago, my poppets, I instructed you in the gentle art of killing art forms in a piece entitled ‘Death by Bebop’. Those of you who read it (or clicked through just now) will recall that I made a particular corpus vile of jazz, and an especial example of ‘Take Five’, by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

That composition very nearly upset our lovely little applecart. Fortunately, after a smashingly musical opening in 5/4 time, the soloists swiftly degenerate into the indistinguishable pabulum of vaguely rhythmic noodling that has made latter-day jazz so detestable to all right-thinking people, McStudges as well as humans.

The natural solution to this is to combine the head of ‘Take Five’ with the heads of other compositions in the same signature, and transposable into the same key; and to play the whole, not as jazz, but as a properly composed piece, scored rigorously throughout. This has often been tried, and done badly, by mashing up the Brubeck noise with the theme from Mission: Impossible. So long as it is done badly, by persons of little talent, it matters not to us.

But no art form is ever dead quite beyond resurrection. We must strive continually to keep them dead. This we do by shutting out the skilful and interesting artists, and admitting none but giftless and footling plodders. Every so often, a human of real ability stumbles into a field that we would leave barren, and makes it yield fruit in our despite.

So it is with this mashup business. A human who calls himself Jake Justice has done it well; and for this he must pay. Behold, my junior McStudges, and judge for yourselves the danger we are in even now:

This nuisance must cease forthwith.

     (signed)
     H. Smiggy McStudge
          Deputy Commissar of Music Depreciation (Pro Tem)