Archive for the ‘disabled figures’ Category

An old woman reading — a magnificent painting done in the 17th century Netherlands

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson


Accept what you are.
Do what you can.
Be glad you can do that.

These are lines I tell myself or some version of them. They help me carry on. I then try to follow them doing what’s in front of me to do that day, and doing what I tell myself I want to and shall do for the sake of events coming up that I can participate in. Participate to the best of my ability and if I can’t do what others do, live with it.

Very sad today because dear close friend for the past 4 years now has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It has been so hard to live since Jim is gone. One can say live in and on yourself but to do this in my state of several dysfunctions takes strength, courage, cheer and yes friendships.

This one is hard. I have a new understanding — much better, much more accurate — of friendship, its limits as well as its gifts, can picture how many people live on themselves and with others. It’s probably salutary for me to see better, more clearly (like Lear is told to) but honestly I would have preferred to go to the end of my chapter without seeing. In reason or logically it should make me stronger to be able to see clearly, but like when I’ve done something that’s hard for me to do and then people tell me, each time it will get easier (say traveling or some technology), and the act(s) don’t at all get easier (but come accompanied by the same anxiety, intense reluctance, and when they are over the same intense relief). Perhaps seeing makes things more doable because I realize how others are what’s called striving or struggling to do them too. (Of course for some these acts come easy; such people are not admirable, just lucky in their genes, or circumstances.) I’m not sure seeing where others experience similar emotions and where they don’t, makes things more doable.

Roger Fry, self-portrait

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.” — Virginia Woolf

I’ve been immersed in one of Virginia Woolf’s it seems to me now hundreds of masterpieces of writing, this one a full length biography of Roger Fry. She grasps that powerful turning points for him later in life were when he faced defeat, recognized what he could do and then flourished within his limitations so as to live out his extraordinary gifts. He was tremendously lucky in who he was born to: he automatically went to the best schools, had connections to get to places where he could meet minds equivalent in finest and insight to his own, and he was born sociable: could make and knew how to sustain friendships. I am so moved by his life style: he was partly homosexual and bisexual and sustained deep relationships among men and women that were unconventional. His rooms were beautifully decorated by true art (not what would fetch money or give prestige necessarily at all) and filled every where what he was doing: books, papers, easels, paint, his food on plates because he was too taken up with what he was doing to keep up with tidyness. A man after my own heart. Fry’s art was one she understood, his principles those she lived by as Fry had understood hers: she reveled in his life, wished she could have lived it.

I’m comparing Woolf’s book to Samuel Johnson’s life of Richard Savage, considered his masterpiece in biography. What a contrast from the point of view of failure. Savage a self-deluded wildly behaved “genius,” born with no advantages but that of “intellectual greatness” (Johnson’s phrase) whose “eminence” because of such gifts just made him a better known instance of of how such things contribute very little to worldly success, happiness, or fulfillment — all of which Roger Fry knew, partly the result of his having been born with the extrinsic advantages Savage lacked and didn’t know how to or in his world could not acquire. It was not just bad luck as Savage also had some innate awful traits of vanity, luxury, scorn for those beneath him (as he saw this), and he could not control ill-advised responses, like anger (when he desperately needed to). His sexuality is not clear; at the time (not in Johnson’s biography) he was linked to at least two women, one Eliza Haywood supposedly had a child by him, but I wonder if he was homosexual or bisexual. It is as extraordinary a story as Fry’s is, only far more flagrantly breaking all taboos. The man may have been in effect homeless, living on the streets, in taverns, for some 28 years; at 46 he died in debtor’s prison, surely from exhaustion and the terrible wear and tear of his body and mind as much as anything else. Johnson was 35 at the time he wrote the biography, living on little bits of money, and saw a possible fate for himself in Savage.

“They are surely happy,” said the prince, “who have all these conveniencies, of which I envy none so much as the facility with which separated friends interchange their thoughts.” — Samuel Johnson, Rasselas

Van Gogh, A Field with Poppies — Woolf begins and ends her biography of Fry with his utterances about poppies

I’ve been following a Future Learn course on autism for three weeks now and have some thoughts about it. It’s done by a group of people running a center in a British university (Kent) for people on the autism spectrum. They have a variety of degrees and positions that legitimate them — and give them salaries. What are they doing with this precious four weeks in public on the Internet they are given?

They persist in asking, Does Autism Exist? & seem to doubt there is such a condition. They know better. They present evidence it does, two of them are clearly autistic themselves — or Aspergers Syndrome as the high end of the condition, where people come closest to non-disabled functioning and are highly intellingent in reasoning, writing, reading, understanding, used to be distinguished. Logically from what they show, if it’s amorphous, cannot be confirmed by scientific method that is unassailable, and manifests differently, there is a (laughably) strong base of similarity. Like cancer, the basic disability or problem comes in different manifestations, but we don’t doubt cancer exists.

I’ve decided that they mean to counter intense hostility by the neurotypical world: my experience is the hostility only goes away when a NT has an autistic person in their family or as a friend. Even then, not all the time, and many inside a family especially (where they cannot get rid of the tie) want to doubt the person is autistic. How painful this is. How painful this Future Learn course. It means such people don’t want to recognize the autistic and refuse to acknowledge they exist. I know this is what people without disabling conditions do with disabilities (I’ve reviewed & read enough books on disability to know this), and with this one mental they can deny even more readily.

So I don’t exist. One of my daughters doesn’t exist. Aspergers Syndrome which describes the part of the spectrum she is on and I’m almost does not exist in the book any more.

The Future Learn course is doing little good to the Aspergers or autistic person: by spending so much time doubting autism, the speakers don’t have the time to go into individual characteristics. Or they don’t want to — two of the three weeks have been unusually short (less videos, less essays than most such courses). I suspect they fear evoking ridicule and hostility. Open objections that could become obnoxious. So they don’t talk about specifics autistic people can’t do, only try to assert through photos how autistic people are social, are made happy by having friends, just don’t know the unwritten codes and social behavior that gains and sustains them.

What they have been willing to discuss (again in general terms) are depression & anxiety as “co-existing morbid conditions.” The language chosen is, shall we say, unfortunate?

Then they show reluctance to say these two linked conditions result from autism & are a response to the way society treats the autistic and how society is organized along neurotypical lines w/neurotypical expectations. So I must spend 4 traumatic hours trying to upgrade a computer with someone’s help so I can even have an app for a power-point presentation; today four more for installation; and now my older daughter may help me learn to use this software and I know that still I might not be able to do such a thing in public. Too nervous. Or I can’t travel alone without it becoming an intense ordeal because I know I get lost. These are crippling conditions and it’s natural to be depressed, would be unlikely not to produce anxiety.

I’m sure they recognize the worst problems of the disabled are mostly the result of the way the larger society refuses to recognize and help them. Books on disability begin with this insight (see, for example, Fictions of Affliction). Deaf people have gone furthest with this, declaring themselves a simply culture, which is not quite so. Not to hear is to live in danger. The alphabet is based on oral sounds

You are given room to comment as “a learner” in these Future Learn courses and I watch people dialoging or commenting alongside one another. So I told the people who invented and have enacted this course they are not helping the autistic by this approach and they are not countering the hostility of the non-autistic by their innocent films (showing autistic and non-autistic babies interacting and then supposedly disproving stereotypical pictures of how autistic people look).

It’s them being timid and is, unfortunately, matched by timidity I’ve seen in other of these Future Learn courses: say on colonialism. The people there were afraid to offend (I now realize from having taught two courses in the Booker Prize book formula and discovered that people drop the course because they identify with the settler colonialists, the imperialists) and spoke in jargon-filled words (like marbles in their mouths) lest they be understood too readily.

Katy Murphy as Jenny Wren from the 1998 Our Mutual Friend by Sandy Welch

From Charlotte Mew’s The Changeling

Sometimes I wouldn’t speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel’s feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat’s black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell’s sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That’s why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn’t do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything …

I’ve finally taken to sitting in my sunroom, only this week through the windows I saw much rain. It is very quiet there, no TV, no computer, no radio, just a silent clock. A comfortable chair, tables, lamps, some of my books, two smaller bookcases of DVDs, a thick cream-beige rug, the walls a soft light green. I read more this way. Settle down to my book friends.

My room of my own in the evening: during the day imagine Snuffy cat sitting along the top and Clarycat by the radiator, me in the chair …

I know some peace here,
for peace comes dropping slow

Miss Drake


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I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. —Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower


Can you imagine yourself being surprized to discover you have had major surgery. That’s my case. Not until the ordeal was almost over did I realize that was what had happened, and not until today, the fourth day afterward and I still have strong pain in my lower jaw and gum, and can’t eat most foods, what major surgery brings on one. I have had major surgery voluntarily three times: all three (of four such volunteering) I have had a hemmorhage (twice vast). Maybe I missed it because the knives (tools they are called) were not aimed at any central body organ or vein, but my mouth.

Gentle reader on Wednesday I had 4 implants planted in my lower gum — implants are thin pieces of metal, two different kinds melded onto a structure that from a x-ray looks like the bottoms of my teeth used to when X-rayed. You might recall I said I had had an abscess in one of my three remaining teeth on the bottom of my jaw, that the one near it became infected, and the one left (poor lonely calcium) could not support my partial denture any more. That I decided I want teeth in my mouth, tired of dentures coming away, not quite fitting, the horrible tasting “adhesive glue-cement.” Well I arrived at my dentist at 9 — I shall call her Veronica Archer. She had said she was cancelling all her other appointments, but I didn’t realize or didn’t think that meant this ordeal (as I began to call it by noon) would go on all day. It took from around 9:15 am when we started, until around 4 pm, with one hour off when one of her three assistants was preparing the denture. Basically she has built me a new jaw. The morning was drilling long holes in my bone in my mouth, and then inserting these pieces of metal, and then on top of them screwable buttons. The insertions had to be done three times to get it right. She then sewed my all over the bottom mouth, everything tucked in. I needed more anesthesia for that; I’d already had two full bouts.

Time out a bit as my legs began to go into spasms.

She had two assistants for this first phase, one was guiding her, someone sent from the company who sells all the material. I am the first patient Dr Archer has done this operation too. She was learning on me. Hitherto she had done say two implants, but never the whole jaw. I didn’t know that. I knew she has a certificate as a dentist and that she puts implants in and does other surgery (root canals, crowns, whatever). She never refers me anywhere; she does everything. Then her assistant from Ohio, also a dentist but specializing in implants. He does nothing but implant over and over — Abdul Gawande says this is the kind of person you want doing a particular procedure, someone who does it as his central trade. put four tiny screws in and then he worked at fitting the actual denture. At that point we took an hour off. The dentist took me out to lunch and I had a bit of pasta but couldn’t eat it really.

Then back for 2 hours to get the screws and denture to fit one another.

Dr Archer is a young black woman of around 43, and there are probably more black people coming there than white. It’s a toss-up; many Asian people. Not so many hispanics, probably because of the expense. I like her and for 10 years now have been more or less satisfied with her work — Jim (I admit) was thinking of switching dentists before he became so mortally ill; he hated the blaring TV in the front but I can’t remember any other complaints. She is Kaiser dentist, which means she agrees to give me a discount and Kaiser pays part of a bill according to a published schedule of prices, and she is much cheaper than “outside patients,” even if you have dental insurance. I can through Kaiser get supplemental dental insurance, but I have not done that. I did go for two other opinions to see if what she proposed was not crazy — there was something in me that thought what we did on Wednesday, 7/26 crazy. One very expensive DC doctor said to be “the best” and things like that (he’s expensive, and a Trollope says, people are impressed by those who charge high and are said to be very good); he was thorough and articulate and said it is what some dentists do and he said he charged ballpark $45,000 for this, not including everything. She charged $19,000 for everything. I also went to Izzy’s doctor who is a Kaiser man — it was he Jim wanted to switch too. He said that he might have done it slower; two one week and two the next and then a final day for dentures. But I did have the Scottish trip coming up and there is a brand of thought that one should do it all at once because this way all the implants are in the right spot. What was happening in the afternoon was this guy was making sure all the implants were centered in the right spot and that’s why he put the denture on because that showed the implants were all in the right place.

Beginning sometime the next morning I have been in bad pain on and off, sometimes it’s as if the denture is too tight (pressure), sometimes burning (some of my gum tissue is raw — Dr Archer showed me that on one of computer mirrors), sometimes indescribable. So I’ve been taking pills, trouble is they make me woozy, unsteady on my feet. I’ve had two night of 9 hour sleep, unheard-of for me most of the time. If I stop for 7 hours say, then I am driven to have all four at once. Better option: take one of them every 3 hours.

I can eat only a limited kind of food. No acid, not even prune juice, or a fresh tomato or peach. They burn. I can eat pasta and eggs, drink tea after it’s cooled off. Honey graham crackers bananas, quiches. I keep biting my tongue. I am most worried about this for my Scottish tour. Dr Archer tells me it’s usual to have such pain and it usually takes two weeks before usual diet can re-commence. The tour starts a week and one half from tomorrow; it will be 16 days after this operations. No need to cross fingers, as I will go no matter what – but I feel I should be better by that time.

I have to admit I’m glad the teeth are in, I can see if I was not in pain, that this will be big improvement over my removable denture. I also look better. It’s not the original contour of my face: my high cheekbones fell sometime in my sixties after all the previous dental work and their crowns and so on fell apart. My face dovetailed into an oval. Now the jaw is slightly squarer. She has said (half-kidding) that there is something we can do for the top gum, which would allow a semi-permanent denture too. Implants after some other procedure (an x-ray says I have no bone in my top jaw — gum disease of many years, slowed down by the deep cleaning and pills I once took, but still relentless over the years since Izzy was born — I was around age 38).

One result is I have had to cancel my NYC trip to a friend in Manhattan. I am sorry for this; if I thought this would be well by Monday, I’d go, but instinct tells me that Wednesday maybe I was be out of continual pain (without pills) and able to eat more. I am sleeping an enormous amount for me. The first night 11 hours altogether, and since then 8 hours both nights. Part of this is the painkillers put me to sleep (especially a huge Ibuprofen — dentist did warn me about this one), partly why it’s said babies sleep a lot: it’s a natural restorative, a reaction to stress and helps individuals regain strength (for babies to grow).

Generalizing, age wears many of one’s parts down. Samuel Johnson’s words come to mind:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

Also how dentists fleece people, gouge them. It cost me for enclosing my porch, painting the house, including all new electrical work and a beautiful lit ceiling fan, $21,000. It took several different men over 2 and 1/1 weeks to do it. A story in the Washington Post about how the American Dental Association pulls this off: “The Unexpected Political power of Dentists.” One in every four US citizens have lost all their teeth by age 65. For millions regular modern style dental care is out of the reach of their income. I’ve seen middle class types (and receptionists) resentful of those who come with medicaid to have their teeth whitened. What are they not equally in need of acceptability as anyone else? I rescued my boy cat from a life-threatening procedure one veterinarian told me way the only way to clean his teeth: anesthetize him, which means putting a tube down his throat, and other of these high-tech applying force. She said she had only lost one cat in five years. She killed that cat. The cost $495. But I need teeth to eat with and to look minimally socially acceptable.

I know that dentists take pride in their work. The man I went to for years, and who built me a sort of mouth of teeth around the ones I had — 20 year period — did regard himself as a sort of artist. Dr Archer was excited and happy that morning, and assumed I was too. She has looked proud when I said that she had done careful careful good work — she gave me her cell phone in case of emergency. She had a photograph taken of the team, me and her.

I will see my friend in New York City at the EC/ASECS conference (small 18th century regional group) this November and she said we’d do a better job of planning four days in the later spring. I did have a very enjoyable lunch yesterday with a young friend from EC/’ASECS at La Madeleine: I was able to eat the inside of a quiche and drink water; it was not the food but our shared friendship over scholarly she is scholarly) interests. My idea of good fun is good company.

I shall have plenty of time for my projects — I seem ever to end up reading, writing, watching movies, studying.

Miss Drake

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Photo taken by Izzy at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC this week

She who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

Dear friends,

I’ve not been writing here because I’ve been so busy with trying to keep up with my teaching, reading with friends on a listserv, on good reads, and seeing if I can develop a project on a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels — I’m listening to a good reading on CDs of Warleggan.

If this were all.

I’ve also been involved with enclosing my porch, again trying to renovate or improve or alter parts of my house (the doors once again, electricity): among other things, a deeply spiteful neighbor apparently researched records available to discover I and the contractor had not taken out a permit to enclose said porch and registered a complaint with “code administration.” Or so I think — this man has done similar things to others, and once before said something to me which suggested he had been researching my title to my house! I am told he is an ex-FBI agent, retired; he was urging me to move. Maybe my house was bringing down property value — especially the kind of modest renovation we are doing. So today the contractor and I spent a long day at City Hall “pulling a permit” by proving to the city what the contractor was doing was adequate work, although it does need to be upgraded to prevent damp from destroying the room. Sigh. The truth is I’m not sure that this man will do the job and I don’t know how to get back to the screened porch. Jim was against enclosing the porch because it would cost far too much for the small room we would get out of it. The plain truth is also I have not that much use for it: yes another bookcase, a comfortable chair, lamp, table, maybe an exercise machine. I was trying no longer to be the neighborhood eyesore. I may (as last year over Expedia) have lost a lot of money. It won’t result in anyone wanting to buy the house for a larger sum; whoever buys it will regard the house as a tear-down.

So who has the heart to write?

The question that emerges in this newly rotten environment — that humanity, decency, privacy, reciprocal loyalty, obedience to human, civil, legal rights are ignored are nothing to the renewed resurgence of murder of hundreds of people and more to come in the middle east — so what’s a little local tyranny — is, how do I — how do you, gentle reader — avoid the rot.

The rot seeps in
The rot seeps in everywhere

Nowadays the best, maybe the only way to reach my friends as a group is through my own timeline on face-book. It’s time-consuming to click on one at a time and I’ve over 250 friends — all of whom I know in some way, many well. My general “feed” is filled with ads. I read the Republicans and Trump are signing away our privacy: if you use any large company for your email, they have the right to sell your data. Who would have their soul sold? My gmail is filled with junk in two categories. Commercial values, commodification shapes all experiences and people rightly flee back to exclusive pre-set-up groups. Face-book pages on topics seek to belong to institutions and rules are set up to control interchanges which put a damper on what can be said, what can be shared: rules make sure only what’s socially acceptable to belong to the agency or institution, or “on topic” is allowed and that is hemmed in. Only the NSA can read our private emails (we hope)– only! People I meet and talk to live these apart single lives as they obey the demands of capitalism today — for a job, a scholarship, as a groundwork for belonging. Adorno was accurate, prophetic is Patrick Wright on Journey through London’s Ruins. Time is money is no innocent utterance.


This past week I shut this out by the classes I was teaching in and the class I am now attending: in Virginia Woolf, with a professor who is a better teacher than I am. She has strong self-confidence and doesn’t need to have extensive notes to talk from and is able to coax gently and create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect whereby a lot of the people in the room exchange views, high-minded on a great fiction, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

Rupert Graves as the rightly suicidal Septimus, Amelia Bullmore, Rezia

Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway who says it was the only way to protect one’s soul …

I’ve seen three great films: (on a DVD on my computer) Ashgar Farhadi’s The Past (the film is searingly honest about people’s utter selfishness, sudden turns of intensely hot temper and resentment, spite without being judgemental); (on another DVD) the extraordinarily subtle Merchant-Ivory Mrs Dalloway, screenplay Eileen Atkins, where the filmic art captures the verbal art and meaning of the novel exquisitely; at my local Cinema Art with a friend, the moving film adaptation by Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne of Julian Barnes’s latest great novel, Man Booker winner for 2011, The Sense of an Ending.

I’ve kept up my friendships on-line.

This was Izzy’s week home: she’s started a new (if brief) touching song; as I watched her watch the World Championship Ice-skating contests at Helsinki, I suddenly asked, where is the next one: why in March 2018 it’s in Milan, Italy we learned. So she and I are going together next year: we’ll take two full weekends on either side and I can take buses and trains to nearby Italian towns and cities I’ve wanted to go to for years: like Brescia, Veronica Gambara’s home. Laura “signed” on and said she’d come and go to the fashion shows going on at that time. Milan —

Galileo as painted by Giusto Sustermans — but see Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (better yet, read it)

Tonight I spent 3 hours traveling by public transportation (and on foot) to go to the Folger to see an hour and one half staged reading of excerpts James Reston and Bonnie Nelson Schwartz’s Galileo’s Torch: a series of scenes showing Galileo joyous with discovery with his aristocratic friend-supporter in Venice, gradually driven when he leaves for Rome and Florence (why we are not told) by the power of the relentless church authorities to recant publicly (the threat is torture). The great actors (Edward Gero as Galileo, Michael Toylaydo as the Grand Inquisitor), the accompanying Renaissance music by the Folger Concert, a soprano singing two early 17th century songs, with a screen showing drawings and passages from Galileo’s Starry Messenger as well as beautiful shots of our universe (prettied up of course) — it was worth the travel, gentle reader. This was my second of three times this week at the Folger. The first was to see the HD screening of The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon. Sunday matinee Izzy and I go to the Folger for the full concert called Starry Messenger.


Those are canines, people: as men legislate women’s health care and don’t want to pay for pregnancy …

Shutting the rot out: well here’s a meditation on where we see it continually and how to walk around it.

I admit for the ironic semi-amusement as well as edification of the people in the second course I’m giving (the first is on City and County Victorian novels, plus one Victorian Gothic) here is part of my opening gambit on the Booker Prize niche:

In the last 30 or more years ours has become a prize obsessed culture. Not everybody has won and not everybody’s prize is as good as others, but many win and they are advertised. It’s not just books: I asked Izzy if there are any ice-skating shows any more not connected to prizes? She replied: hardly any. From films, to sports, to classical music, to tattoo art; a concept of art as everything a contest. It does debase the art or sport or whatever: it’s about the relationship of any art to money first and foremost: prizes equate art with money and they enable art and artists to make more money. Then politics of all sorts, power, social and cultural agendas, power, prestige. Ironic that as inequality is still growing apace – or maybe to be expected that an art work is valued by its social capital – that’s a Bourdieu phrase. You can trade in the world with money as capital, but trading cards and chits also include your rank, status, institution, the red carpet extravaganzas are just an obscenely obvious edge of it. BAFTAs, Oscars, Emmy, Grammies, as each one is co-opted the prize is less given for the quality of whatever it was but who the artist is, who connected to. So once upon a time a Golden Globe may have meant a good movie, now it’s just like the Oscars.

It might seem and is a natural human activity but not to the extent it’s taken over. How this has come about and why tells us about our communications industry I suppose, but it’s more than that. Any comments or suggestions. There’s no correct answer. We could give Hitler a great fascist dictator. No one has come near him as yet. As our esteemed tweeter would say “tremendous.” Now in each profession probably a different set of circumstances could and would be produced to explain why.

In the case of books, in mid-century there was this problem distinguishing “serious fiction” from genre and junk fiction as TV and other medias spread and as paperbacks spread. Yes one explanation for the booker is the invention and spread of paperbacks which put books in the hands of people who could not afford hardbacks. The marketplace was flooded with low and middle brow paperback books. There suddenly was a collapse of a number of understood agreements where people didn’t undercut one another. Some of these protections still hold in Germany plus German federal policy works to protect bookstores among other businesses in Germany and not reward them for destroying themselves. – NBA the Net Book agreement – these are policies and practices of major chains of bookstores.

All winners must stand holding their book with the words Booker Prize winner prominently displayed

Short-listed do very well too

What happens is people stumble into things – they also conspire but sometimes they stumble; or one person has the idea and has no sense how workable and efficient it will be if done right. Todd’s Consuming Fictions gives the extraordinary figures as the early success of the Booker was felt. It was a coterie: an in-group of linked people living in and attached to London. It was the brainchild of Tom Maschler, a “rising” young celebrity editor at Jonathan Cape. Booker Brothers were a post-colonial agrobusiness company seeking to diversify and improve their public image with the collapse of colonialism as acceptable. I’m not saying colonialism collapsed; far from it, but it was no longer openly praised to steal another country’s natural resources and put the people into forms of servitude. A couple of other prizes from the 1960s: America Hawthorden and James Tait, Guardian fiction prize 1955.

Nothing remarkable about the Booker in its first couple of years; nothing unusual about their books, venture close to collapse. It’s said in-house correspondence of 1970s reads like a Black Box from a crashed airplane. 1970S a turning years: some extraordinary post-colonial books very like English Patient: V. S. Naipaul. In a Free State. JG. Farrell The Seige of Krisnapur. Books like The Bookshop: Susan Hill, the Bird of Night. Doris Lessing. Briefing for Descent into Hell. Movies helped: ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Heat and Dust is wedded to Merchant-Ivory type films (ah). They included books like Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – imagine Lady Edith grown old and poor and living in a hotel. Iris Murdoch. The Sea the Sea. Kingsley Amis: Jake’s Thing (just what you think. Barbara Pym with her church jumble sale fiction: Quartet in Autumn – profoundly movingly sad. They cottoned onto the importance of planting stories, of announcing long list, short list, glittering prize ceremony. Series of scandals. J. G. Berger Ways of Seeing accepts his prize by insulting everyone as elite, corrupt, useless. The person who refuses to come pick up his prize – Dylan Thomas who sends the inimitable, unforgettable Patti Smith in his place. . This person gets a prize and that one not and it seems that the one who didn’t wrote the better. Who did she know? Then things like the Ayatollah Khomenai puts out a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie who won for Midnight’s children and has been long and short listed again and again.

All the talk buzzing around the Oscars is just a repeat of this early innovative group. The year of English Patient there were in the end two prize winners; Barry Unsworth no where near as dazzling and about slavery in a intense way ought to have won: Sacred Hunger. English Patient is more fun. Wolf Hall is set off by cult of Anne Boleyn and the marvelous acting talent of Mark Rylance (who can make a whole film come alive with the quiet question when you say shall I do this, “would it help?” So they gave her the prize for Bring up the Bodies. It’s not that good a book at all.

Possession in 1990 was a tremendous moment. It made Byatt’s career and made the prize. The movie wasn’t the center even though Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle were paired again. I find I’m not as enamoured of it as I once was. I prefer Atwood’s Alias Grace – a Jane Eyre immigration story: governess type goes to Canada, based on real woman and murder – Grace Marks accused — in a household of servants. Behind it a classic Canadian memoir: Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush and Moodie’s career as journalist where she interviews Marks –- and of course the Brontes’ art.


What are some of the characteristics the Bookers share which do set them off. I suppose that’s the work of this term. What qualities are found in “serious” fiction that set it off from (sorry for the “terribly snobbish term”) middle brow books? I thought I’d call attention to just a couple in the hope of startling or creating interest or maybe opposition.

Luke Strongman: Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire: nostalgia, he says, the “clue” theme

After reading through our four and reading desultorily and listening to some of them read aloud on tape: beyond the historical turn accompanied by a deep questioning of what passes for history and why we want these stories told:

The central figure in The English Patient and a number of the events swirling round him: the deeply reactionary erudite adventurer, a Hungarian count Laslo Almasy: Ondaatje may have written an anti-colonialist, anti-war book but his hero is something out of The Prisoner of Zenda, related to royals in middle Europe: born 1896, he was a member of the Zerzura Club, desert explorers and adventurers, outlier types, presented themselves as explorers, lovers of fancy cars and women, looking for ancient cities in the desert, loses oases, but like communist spies inside M16 and Oxford in the 1940s and 50s, the Zerzura club were mapping the desert as spies for the fascists and Nazis, as military people in WW2, traitors some would say, Almazy died of dystentery in 1951 in Austria – never would take care of himself – he was awarded the Iron Cross by German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. People might remember the romantic film Out of Africa based on Isak Dinesen’s book with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (now married in earnest): the hero there was Anglo and part of a group from Kenya. Dinesen wrote great tales, gothics, but was as reactionary (crazy) as Ayn Rand. We have just two of this type but often when you dig a little in the background of a Booker Prize you find really interesting history, characters, authors events.

To continue: stream of consciousness as a central immediate confrontation of imagined mind with imagined reader; anti-colonialist (the legacies of empire) and anti-war: at some deep level –- and not so there is this perception of life, existence at terrifying. You never know what is going to happen next and you often can’t explain why so as to prevent next time. The Judgement scene in A Month in the Country. In the old English of Moon, a dreamer-archeaologist digging up the savage Saxons

And he shal com with woundes rede
To deme [judge]the quicke and the dede … (p. 34).

But as Amy Dodds puts it on the upper level of her twice weekly bus ride to her profoundly mentally disabled daughter, The thing is not to take it as a punishment.

If you are not terrified by the torture and landmines of Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient, you are not reading what’s in front of you. Water and sand as killers. Deep melancholy. But they are also for lack of a better term “quirky” – Mrs Palfrey at her Claremont is quirky, odd, unexpected. All these people living on houseboats, the book that won Fitzgerald her one Booker (all the others were short lists), Offshore seems to be about eccentric people. Fitzgerald’s point is they are not. But they seem to be. She was shortlisted a remarkable number of times: Human Voices about the power of radio really; In the spring time of the year, a kind of condensed Tolstoy. The Blue Flower.

I asked myself why did these two books by Swift win or were shortlisted and not these others. This works better with authors who keep getting short listed but don’t win a lot – egregiously given the number of authors there are some who win twice. So Ian McEwan is short listed frequently, winning for Amsterdam, but what is different about the books that don’t win. To ask such a question is to be non-cynical and say something in the quality of the book counts.

Last: the embedded narrative, the use of a central picture often one that really existed or exists: as in Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which won other prizes. They are haunted fictions, sometimes by real banging ghosts as in the Poltergeist in The Bookshop or psychological projection. Memories. In The Sense of an Ending, a repeating motif: as you peel the onion, at the center is a mentally disabled person whose existence offers enigmatic explanations for the world of some key characters in the book.

And they are often turned into spectacularly good movies, commercial successes with screenplays occasionally vying in quality, adding to, enrichening the novels.

So the Booker Prize books reach us via people who know how to manipulate the rot use a long spoon.

And Izzy and I may make it to Milan ….

Miss Drake

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Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch


40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.


The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.



She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:


She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.


Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake

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From Danger UXB (one of the great anti-war mini-series)

This is the anniversary of Jim’s dying two years ago. He has lost the ability to speak back as of October 7th and on October 8th he was beginning that terrible ordeal/agon of literally dying.

I feel I’m living through these days for a third time: the first two years ago, as he lay dying; the second last year when somehow I kept the sense of it all at a distance; and now:

On October 3rd this year when Jim would have been 67 I felt how uncanny it is that he is not here, how weird is death in comparison to how we feel about someone’s existence. We have to feel deeply that the person we are attached to has deep reality, and yet they are no more than 98?% water (as I’ve read in different places). I felt haunted the way I had for a time after my father died. Then it was the irretrievably of never being able to make contact again, and I felt such a strong desire to I projected psychologically a presence hiding somewhere, invisible, silent.

It’s not like that for Jim. I have this sense of the unbelievability of existence itself. I can hardly believe I am here concretely if he’s not. I don’t know why I don’t vanish away softly in the night — like one of Lewis Carroll’s mad figures — if he could so vanish.

I’d call such feelings are one of the origins of religious belief. Tonight we would have been married 46 years, met 47 years ago.

I remember Shakespeare’s lines as Prospero: we are such things as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep.

And also that 90th sonnet: Do not drop in for an afterloss … in the onset come; so shall I know the very worst … which compared to loss of thee will not seem so

Jenny Diski’s latest entry as she moves into death is devastating. Her cancer is for now (what a sardonic joke in such words) in remission, for how long (ditto) the doctors can’t say (as they know nothing). Like the heroine in Wit, she is dying in immiseration because of the effect of the treatments on her, her lungs gone, she has (like Hilary Mantel) been made to look awful so that she is alienated from her body. at once feeble, unable to walk steadily and fat. Why should she care say the heartless neat doctors and nurses. She opens with talking of letters she has received; I was almost tempted to write. We learn in this one she has two grandchildren and we know the father of her daughter, once her partner-husband died a couple of years ago. So her daughter parentless.

People have asked me (well one person) what is gained by telling of Doris and me, well the same thing that is gained by her telling of these dreadful symptoms, her pain, her feebleness, how others will not help except for the Poet. Insofar as you can stop people from mouthing nonsense about triumphs, conquests, and bravery and instead tell what cancer is, you help a little in the pressure to do fundamental research. The research that is done is expensive surgery to prolong life and pills that cost huge sums — all garnering profit. What they discover fundamentally is a bye-product and not much sought. The TTP was signed yesterday: a key provision fought over was the US on behalf of the pharmaceuticals (like the fascist gov’t it is) to give them the right to charge outrageously for 5-8 years; 12 was what was wanted and the “balance” is it’s just 6-8 and uncountable thousands excluded because of the price at least until then.

I omit all the provisions which supercede workers’ rights and hand a good deal of the world over to corporations (with military backing) to exploit and immiserate everyone who is not in the elite genuinely rich and well connected.

Cancer is our great and ever spreading plague — like the engineered (in effect) famines and mass diseases of early times — India, Ireland. Settler colonialism now exterminating the Palestinians a little at a time — punctuated by the terror of lethal bombing.

Diski speaks for us all — she says don’t talk about bravery so instead I’ll say she writes what she does because she cannot help herself and thinks truth has a function in the world that helps others– if only by saying see here I am, is this the way you are? if so, we are not alone.

Diski (before cancer)

She does say it’s hard not to feel what’s happening to her is a punishment — like it’s hard not to feel the death and disappearance of someone is uncanny. But what it’s vital to remember is not to take what happens ever as a punishment. That is your psyche doubling in on itself and wanting to find some reason, some ultimate meaning for what is happening. For me not comfort, but that way madness lies.

Miss Drake

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Evenings Ian will leap up high to the hutch (bookshelf) on top of Yvette’s extended desk-like furniture set. You see him looking startled when he realized Yvette was photographing him:


Do click to see and hear her.

Are we out of the woods? is anyone ever out of the woods? Remember Sondheim’s lunge Into the Woods.

I like how clearly the words of Swift’s song come across in Yvette’s rendition. In Swift’s rendition I cannot hear them so cannot get the situation. (I am more than a little deaf I sometimes surmize.) I also like the high notes Yvette hits towards the end. Have a look at her hutch: it contains her favorite books: all Patrick O’Brien, all and much Austen (and Persuasions periodicals); her music and Latin and Roman culture and history books: she majored in music, with her voice as her primary instrument, her trumpet her secondary; she minored in Latin and by extension the classical ancient world under Rome. Librarianship came later.

Emily Blunt as the baker’s wife in the Disneyfied Into the Woods — nonetheless going it alone …

Miss Drake

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Clarycat looking at leaf (she has a passion for them): not one tough motherfucker, but then she’s not had to be

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

Dear friends and readers,

A particularly beautiful poem:

The History Of One Tough Motherfucker

he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said,”not much
chance…give him these pills…his backbone
is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
mended, if he lives he’ll never walk, look at
these x-rays, he’s been shot, look here, the pellets
are still there … also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off … ”
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn’t eat, he
wouldn’t touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn’t go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
him and gently touched him and he looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn’t work)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
it was like the trumpet of possible victory
blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat — I’d had it bad, not that
bad but bad enough
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
just looked at me.
“you can make it,” I said to him.
he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
rear legs just didn’t want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up.
you know the rest: now he’s better than ever, cross-eyed
almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
his eyes never left …
and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,”look, look
at this!”
but they don’t understand, they say something like,”you
say you’ve been influenced by Celine?”
“no,” I hold the cat up, “by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!”
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he’s relaxed he knows…
it’s then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it’s bullshit but that somehow it all helps.


The Biblical allusion is probably to Joshua and his army bringing down the walls of Jericho by sounding ram’s horn trumpets and shouting. People blow trumpets to get others to pay attention, as signals of victory or defeat and when someone dies (the haunting Taps). The poet’s cat functions as a trumpet in our world. Our poet has had it bad, but not as bad as the (against people especially) helpless cat. This cat has been so mistreated he has had it worse (been treated worse) than Bukowski. But he survives. All the symbolism is of course bullshit but somehow it consoles to look out at others and let them see you enduring on together.

Charles Bukowski and his rescued friend-pussycat

On Bukowski and his tender affectionate nature, often obscured: “She is a joy. I look at her and light goes all through me.”

Charles Bukowski smoking


Did you know there is such a thing as a cat cafe?


In areas where those who own and or control spaces one can buy or rent to live in will not allow pets these cafes have grown up as safe havens for cats, places people can come to play with and become friends with a particular cat, bring their own cats to stay. Such places serve coffee and tea. My friend put it this way: People come, by tea or coffee, caress the lonely cats and pay money to the owners for more support of more cats. The cats are said to be well-treated: kept clean and healthy.

Caroline tells me she has been trying to “jumpstart” one in DC for quite a time. A friend who lives in Torquay told me of a cat cafe in Totnes. I have been told of areas in the world where the people are so starved and miserable if you do have a well-fed and well-treated cat, you must protect the cat from these people. Such is the state of the world. A YouTube of Nekkoaigi, cat coffee cafe in Kyoto:

Miss Drake

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