Monday, October 05, 2015

`The Word Stirs'

Eva Brann titles the final chapter of Open Secrets/Inward Prospects (Paul Dry Books, 2004) “Leftovers: Variations on No Theme,” dedicating a sub-miscellany within a book that is already a miscellany. What the entries share is the coloration of one person’s sensibility, without straining after a grand summation. Brann is deeply learned, curious, common sensical and remarkably uncynical. One admires her calm and aversion to polite bullshit. Take this:                                      

“If you want to praise acceptably, be very precise. Inattentive praise is almost an insult.” 

I would delete “almost.” This has applications to everything from workplace ethics and etiquette to book reviewing. In an age when everything is “awesome,” nothing is good. “Inattentive” is precisely the word for polite, empty ass-kissing – a gesture of acceptance rather than an expression of admiration. And here she is on another symptom of our time:                                                       

“It is very profitable to advertise your psychic infirmity. No one will dare to make any demands, and the usual duties of humanity are cancelled.” 

She is diagnosing pathology (real, imagined or fraudulent) as an all-purpose excuse for being lazy, stupid, impatient or angry. And this, on another mistakenly valued virtue: 

“Spontaneity requires complex arrangements to produce and lots of help to clean up after.” 

Often people admired for their spontaneity are arrested adolescents (of any age) who have arranged for Mom and Dad to be close by with a credit card and health insurance. Related to this aperçu in a subterranean fashion is another: 

“Living single has invigorating aspects that are the exact obverses of the obvious downsides: guiltless freedom, unnegotiated leisure, and the sharp, pure air of independence—not for everybody.” 

Those who most desire unfettered independence are often the ones least able to handle it. This is about as close as Brann gets to La Rochefoucauld-like cynicism (or realism): 

“People say they like people. But they seem to mean new ones, not the ones at hand.” 

Not “No Theme.” Her theme is childishness persisting across a lifetime and encouraged by the culture. Here is the idea as applied to politics in 2015 (as you read it, think of the people in your life who come to mind): 

“Adult fanaticism as observed in me: tunnel vision and wild generalization; bug-eyed credulity and balking at counterevidence; paranoid cocooning and dreams of domination; manic mentation and mindless proscriptions: a prolonged Walpurgis Night of the soul.” 

And a fine refutation of multiculturalism: 

“It is a touching but strange notion that to know each other better is to love each other more. Why should a maxim hold for all cultures when it is manifestly untrue for many couples? And yet it’s the premise of globalist education.” 

And here is Brann’s final entry, which contains a rare allusion to a recent writer: 

“Here’s a closing thought from [James] Merrill’s `The Broken Home.’ 

“`I have thrown out yesterday’s milk
And opened a book of maxims.
The flame quickens. The word stirs.’ 

“Might that happen?”

1 comment:

Jeff Gee said...

Two posts in two days, and I still can't stop my so-called brain from turning 'Eva Brann' into 'Eva Braun.'