Friday, May 11, 2018

`An Oyster-Like Insensibility'

A good writer sets wet wood afire and makes a meal of gravel and sand. Hazlitt and Liebling transmute boxing into a compelling subject. Ronald Knox does the same for the farther shores of religious enthusiasm, and Chesterton for chalk. Take writerly ennui. The thought of yet another lament induces a headache in sensible people. Writers who complain of blockage, lassitude, linguistic impotence or costive inspiration ought to be muzzled. But mightn’t it be an opportunity for a good satirical laugh? Don’t whiners of any stripe deserve derisive laughter, not commiseration?

“Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day-mare,—‘ whoreson lethargy,’ Falstaff calls it,—an indisposition to do anything, or to be anything,—a total deadness and distaste,—a suspension of vitality,—an indifference to locality,—a numb, soporifical, good-for-nothingness,—an ossification all over,—an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events,—a mind-stupor,—a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience.”
This comes in a letter Charles Lamb is writing to his Quaker friend Bernard Barton on Jan. 9, 1824. Stated briefly, he has a cold. He writes at length that he is unable to write:

“I have not a thing to say; nothing is of more importance than another; I am flatter than a denial or a pancake; emptier than Judge Parke’s wig when the head is in it; duller than a country stage when the actors are off it; a cipher, an o!”

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