Sunday, February 05, 2012

`Homelier, but More Durable'

Unlike art, the best conversation is spontaneous, never outlined or plotted. Earnestness and other species of dullness -- people with a plan -- are the enemies of good conversation. When the right people meet, they spark like flint and steel, recalling the old expression "court and spark." Good talk sparkles.

A blog is conversation on the screen, cunningly deployed electrons. It begins one-sidedly, and as such invites blowhards, but good talkers attract good listeners who, if encouraged, become good talkers in their own right. In sum, that is the history of Anecdotal Evidence, which started life six years ago today. In his poem "Fifty-ninth Street" (Peru, 1983), Herbert Morris, apropos of Henry James, refers to "that complication / of discipline and passion we call art." AE is less than art, more than conversation and seldom less than passion-driven.

Now I have some notion of how a near-death experience feels. Anecdotal Evidence disappeared for about four hours on Saturday. I don't know why, or why it returned. The experience was humbling -- six years of daily commitment erased. I was prepared to accept it would never return, Lazarus-like, and ready to start from scratch with another post, this one, number 2,401. Then my laptop came down with a virus, crippling all conversation, and it's still in the shop. The message is clear: Keep working. If you have something worthwhile to say, you'll find a way to say it. (I write this on a Fondren Library computer, as the text of an email to myself.) Charles Lamb writes in "New Year's Eve," "A new state of being staggers me," and goes on:

"Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes and society, and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and fireside conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself -- these things go out with life?"

No, all lives on so long as writers and readers happily coexist. Who are the readers of Anecdotal Evidence? Most live in contented anonymity. A few have become true, albeit virtual friends -- Helen Pinkerton, Dave Lull, Nige and David Myers, among many others. The rest are dead in the banal sense -- Dr. Johnson, Yvor Winters, Charles Lamb. In 1829, when a sonnet he had written was rejected by a magazine editor, Lamb writes, "Damn the age; I will write for antiquity!"

Lamb's some-time friend William Hazlitt wrote a fine testimonial to him in The Spirit of the Age (1825):

"He would fain 'shuffle off this mortal coil'; and his spirit clothes itself in the garb of elder time, homelier, but more durable. He is borne along with no pompous paradoxes, shines in no glittering tinsel of a fashionable phraseology, is neither fop nor sophist. He has none of the turbulence or froth of new-fangled opinions. His style runs pure and clear, though it may often take an underground course, or be conveyed through old-fashioned conduit pipes. Mr. Lamb does not court popularity, nor strut in gaudy plumes, but shrinks from every kind of ostentatious and obvious pretension into the retirement of his own mind."


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

It has been a great pleasure to listen in on your conversation.

zmkc said...

Phew, I thought at the start of this post that you were about to announce you were stopping.

On the actual near death experience, my sympathies for your moment of anxiety - and doesn't it highlight what a worry it is that, more and more, library administrations (at least, in the UK and Australia) are arguing that they no longer need so many paper books, because they can store everything electronically. Such a lot of 'what ifs' about that policy, it seems to me.

Anonymous said...

It's always a pleasure to read this blog. I hope I get to read it for a long time.

Jeff said...

Four hours of downtime? That'll teach you not to misidentify flowers.

Glad you're up and running. And if you're wondering whether Anecdotal Evidence readers follow up on the suggestions implicit in your posts: I got an Eric Ormsby book in the mail last week.