Wednesday, November 12, 2014

`With One's Thoughts on the Bouquet'

Terry Teachout introduced me to Neville Cardus – the first time, by a passing mention in the New York Times, in a marvelous 1999 piece on “literary crushes” that I clipped and saved; then, more extensively in a 2007 Commentary essay, “The Amateur as Critic.” Cardus’ job description is probably unique in journalism. For years he wrote knowledgeably and enthusiastically about cricket and classical music for the Manchester Guardian. Only A.J. Liebling and his joyful versatility (boxing, food, France, combat, the press) embodies a comparable omnivorousness. Both wrote with “impressionistic gusto,” to use Teachout’s phrase. “Gusto” is an attractive quality in any writer, one much prized by Marianne Moore and William Hazlitt (see the latter’s “On Gusto”). Gusto in a writer might be defined as happy industriousness, pleasure in work. For decades, Cardus reviewed three concerts a week, amounting to some four thousand words, on top of the cricket writing, his books and incidental work. In Conversations with Cardus (1976, one year after his death), a collection of the critic’s talks with Robin Daniels, Cardus says: 

“Never in my life have I written to make money. I’ve never written to add to education. I’ve never written to increase culture. I’ve never wanted to improve the world. I’ve only wanted to get the words onto paper. I’ve had an affair – a literary affair – with an artist (that is to say, my subject) and all I’ve wanted to do was to help our baby be born.”

The theme sounded repeatedly by Cardus in Autobiography (1947) is lifelong vigorous enjoyment in life and art. His spirit is refreshingly free of self-pity, remorse and morbid navel-gazing. He is a Dickensian figure, always alert and energized, and the writer he cites most often is Dickens. He grew up poor and his formal education ended at age thirteen. Cardus describes himself, surprisingly, as “a born introvert.” He says: 

“Any extrovert is for me the last word in tedium; and the tedium of externality is life’s most searching trial. The objective everyday universe is only so much material for my sensibility or imagination to play upon; and sheer `play’ it must be at times, as much as a more austere occupation. Humour is a necessary salt, and without a corrective of cynicism all seems foolishness and callow.” 

There follows a self-revealing passage in which Cardus seemingly inverts the meanings of introversion and extraversion, almost coining new words: 

“I cannot make mere acquaintances either in life or the arts. If I do not feel some manifestation of love I cannot enter that world where awareness of self dwindles. My belief is that happiness comes only when the ego is absorbed into a state of being that transcends primary self….Egoism, like patriotism, is a good thing only if it can lose itself in love that goes beyond self and finds a greater, because less restricted self.” 

This should not be confused with will-o-the-wisp psycho-babble. Rather, it suggests a common-sensical recipe for life and reminds me of Theodore Dalrymple’s observation: “As I tell my patients, much to their surprise — for it is not a fashionable view — it is far more important to be able to lose yourself than to find yourself.” Cardus adds: “My point is that a glass of wine is best drunk with one’s thoughts on the bouquet, the ritual of drinking rather than on thirst or a personal craving for liquor.”  It’s useful to note that “gusto” is rooted in gustare, “to taste, take a little of.” 

[I first became aware of Terry Teachout, linking the name with the writing, with this 1995 Wall Street Journal piece on the pianist Roger Kellaway.]


Subbuteo said...

Yes Cardus seems rather confused in his definitions of extra and introversion. Surely losing "itself in love that goes beyond self" is the very definition of extraversion! Extraversion means to turn outside yourself doesn't it? I think he coined a very personal use of introversion.

Subbuteo said...

Also "gustare" means more than taste. In Spanish, as I'm sure you know, living in Texas me gustar means it pleases me, so there is definitely an element of relish in gusto.