Song of a Tree
Amabel saw that she would never attract a man again; she would never be loved, for she had not held even the Colonel’s attention (61) -Mavis Gallant, New Year’s Eve from Varieties of Exile

Varieties of Exile is a collection of short stories by the Canadian writer Mavis Gallant published in 2003. The stories are told with a perfection of tone. Each protagonist is an isolated voice above the score; Gallant has the ear of a soloist.
 Mrs. Plummer suddenly said clearly to herself or to Amabel, “My mother used to make her children sing. If you sing, you must be happy. That was another idea of happiness” (62).
All of the stories are wonderful, terse and moving, exemplifying the power of the short story. But New Year’s Eve slayed me. It is simply told but deeply discordant. Colonel and Mrs. Plummer, currently residing in Russia, agree to have Amabel, their deceased daughter’s school chum, come to visit over the holiday. Amabel, recently divorced, on a stabbing whim, imagines, hopes, fantasizes that the Plummer’s will take her into their fold and sooth her lonely soul.
They stared at each other, as if they were strangers in a crush somewhere and her earring had caught on his coat. Their looks disentangled (56).
The story transpires over an evening spent at the opera. Amabel, having cut herself free from a desolate marriage is deafened by her now untethered heart; she’s incapable of hearing the contrapuntal recrimination and hostility throbbing between the Plummer’s. She throws herself onto their mercy and they barely notice. Amabel’s lonely awkwardness is wretchedly evinced by Gallant. Her reckless hope that the Plummers will love her is confused by the mutual and in some ways merciful inability to really communicate.
Tears stood in Amabel’s eyes and she had to hold her head as stiffly as Mrs. Plummer did; otherwise the tears might have spilled on her program and thousands of people would have heard them fall. Later, the Plummers would drop her at her hotel, which could have been in Toronto, in Caracas, or Amsterdam; where there was no one to talk to, and she was not loved (61).
A fugue without harmony, Gallant passes the narration around and around, with a slight tragicomic touch. Amabel, rootless, doesn’t belong anywhere or to anyone, her human desire to connect is so overwhelming, she can’t hear that the Plummers are reading off an entirely different score. Only the sound of loneliness reverberates. And the song is stuck in my head.
When [Amabel] hinted at her troubles, said something about a wasted life, Mrs. Plummer cut her off with, “Most lives are wasted. All are shortchanged. A few are tragic” (58).

Song of a Tree

Amabel saw that she would never attract a man again; she would never be loved, for she had not held even the Colonel’s attention (61) 
-Mavis Gallant, New Year’s Eve from Varieties of Exile

Varieties of Exile is a collection of short stories by the Canadian writer Mavis Gallant published in 2003. The stories are told with a perfection of tone. Each protagonist is an isolated voice above the score; Gallant has the ear of a soloist.

 Mrs. Plummer suddenly said clearly to herself or to Amabel, “My mother used to make her children sing. If you sing, you must be happy. That was another idea of happiness” (62).

All of the stories are wonderful, terse and moving, exemplifying the power of the short story. But New Year’s Eve slayed me. It is simply told but deeply discordant. Colonel and Mrs. Plummer, currently residing in Russia, agree to have Amabel, their deceased daughter’s school chum, come to visit over the holiday. Amabel, recently divorced, on a stabbing whim, imagines, hopes, fantasizes that the Plummer’s will take her into their fold and sooth her lonely soul.

They stared at each other, as if they were strangers in a crush somewhere and her earring had caught on his coat. Their looks disentangled (56).

The story transpires over an evening spent at the opera. Amabel, having cut herself free from a desolate marriage is deafened by her now untethered heart; she’s incapable of hearing the contrapuntal recrimination and hostility throbbing between the Plummer’s. She throws herself onto their mercy and they barely notice. Amabel’s lonely awkwardness is wretchedly evinced by Gallant. Her reckless hope that the Plummers will love her is confused by the mutual and in some ways merciful inability to really communicate.

Tears stood in Amabel’s eyes and she had to hold her head as stiffly as Mrs. Plummer did; otherwise the tears might have spilled on her program and thousands of people would have heard them fall. Later, the Plummers would drop her at her hotel, which could have been in Toronto, in Caracas, or Amsterdam; where there was no one to talk to, and she was not loved (61).

A fugue without harmony, Gallant passes the narration around and around, with a slight tragicomic touch. Amabel, rootless, doesn’t belong anywhere or to anyone, her human desire to connect is so overwhelming, she can’t hear that the Plummers are reading off an entirely different score. Only the sound of loneliness reverberates. And the song is stuck in my head.

When [Amabel] hinted at her troubles, said something about a wasted life, Mrs. Plummer cut her off with, “Most lives are wasted. All are shortchanged. A few are tragic” (58).

Mazarine, Luteus, Vermillion
The other day at work in the library while prying apart two colossal artbooks- my left hand pushing the row as far over as it would budge, while holding between right thumb and forefinger another sizable tome, the remaining three fingers were left with thrusting the opposing mountain of books to the opposite side when Lo! a small book revealed itself recessed in the deep shadows of the imposing giants surrounding it. With all of my fingers engaged, I let out an exasperated sigh. With reluctance, I released the hard earned space I had created. I  deftly (more likely, spasmodically) slipped my left hand in before the hidden entrance snapped shut in the jungle of books squeezed onto the shelf. If it hadn’t been a high shelf I might have engaged my foot to keep that damn space, but alas, I do try to maintain a professional demeanor.
My wearied fingers just managed to coax the little book out. I had only intended to help it reclaim its allotted space, but when I read the title, The Primary Colors by Alexander Theroux, I had to take a look. That very morning I had finished reading The Manticore by Robertson Davies, so when his back-of-the-book-two-cents blurb promising essays of “prodigal and vagarious adventure” as oppose to the “terse and apophthegmatic” sort, well, I ask you - how could leave it on the shelf?
The word sings. You pout pronouncing it, form a kiss, moue slightly, blowing gracefully from the lips as if before candles on a birthday cake (3).
Blue. It can only be blue, of course. Theroux’s discursive, plaited, and enigmatic exaltation of the primary color is a crazy delight to read. In equal parts: laundry list, rapturous praise, historical, poetical, and literary- azure my love, and blue, blau, bleu…some 50 pages into the thicket of illusive, expensive, pensive, doleful, blithe, yet blissful blue, Theroux insouciantly begins a new paragraph by saying, “Speaking of blue…”
Georgiana Peacher in Mary Stuart’s Ravishment Descending Time may well have given us the greatest passage on yellow eyes ever written, which I include here for, among other things, the edification of those undermedicated hacks, shameless book-a-year novelists, and jug-headed commercialists yahoos whose predictable prose comes cranking out of the trafila of their heads like streams of common pasta (104).
Yellow seems the perfect color to evince such a vitriolic run of the pen. At once sickly and weak it just as easily turns to exuberant luster. The sultry and louche lemonade pucker in no way disturbs the energetic primordial yellow, “I was going into the yellow” as Theroux quotes Marlow looking at a map of the Belgian Congo, “I was going into the yellow” (157).
As to barbaric richness of color, Francis Bacon, who wanted, among other things, to make the human scream into something “which would have the intensity and beauty of a Monet sunset,” like the color of blood, whether Antioch-red or paintbox bright or cherry: “It’s nothing to do with mortality, but it’s to do with the great beauty of the color of meat” (193).
Indeed, it is not accidental, I think, that  ”there is no red Necco wafer” (172). Of all the names for red: cochineal, carmine, rubious, crimson, scarlet, a seemingly endless array of nuance and aspects. The copse of all that red denotes, connotes or promotes seems to tangle Theroux a bit in the final essay. As if there is too much to feel in this - the true primary color (no matter the language, “red” is always the first color named after black and white). Love and death, fervor, pain, a blush, the saucy and tart - my heart! my heart! Cranberry that it is, bursting with bitterness, but ever awaiting the sweet start.

*luteous (from lutum, mud) one of those perfectly good English words completely ignored nowadays as pretentious and arch, except by literate people like Virgil, who in his day used the word “luteus” as a synonym for yellow (73).
** Print by Dana Jennings Rohn

Mazarine, Luteus, Vermillion

The other day at work in the library while prying apart two colossal artbooks- my left hand pushing the row as far over as it would budge, while holding between right thumb and forefinger another sizable tome, the remaining three fingers were left with thrusting the opposing mountain of books to the opposite side when Lo! a small book revealed itself recessed in the deep shadows of the imposing giants surrounding it. With all of my fingers engaged, I let out an exasperated sigh. With reluctance, I released the hard earned space I had created. I  deftly (more likely, spasmodically) slipped my left hand in before the hidden entrance snapped shut in the jungle of books squeezed onto the shelf. If it hadn’t been a high shelf I might have engaged my foot to keep that damn space, but alas, I do try to maintain a professional demeanor.

My wearied fingers just managed to coax the little book out. I had only intended to help it reclaim its allotted space, but when I read the title, The Primary Colors by Alexander Theroux, I had to take a look. That very morning I had finished reading The Manticore by Robertson Davies, so when his back-of-the-book-two-cents blurb promising essays of “prodigal and vagarious adventure” as oppose to the “terse and apophthegmatic” sort, well, I ask you - how could leave it on the shelf?

The word sings. You pout pronouncing it, form a kiss, moue slightly, blowing gracefully from the lips as if before candles on a birthday cake (3).

Blue. It can only be blue, of course. Theroux’s discursive, plaited, and enigmatic exaltation of the primary color is a crazy delight to read. In equal parts: laundry list, rapturous praise, historical, poetical, and literary- azure my love, and blue, blau, bleu…some 50 pages into the thicket of illusive, expensive, pensive, doleful, blithe, yet blissful blue, Theroux insouciantly begins a new paragraph by saying, “Speaking of blue…”

Georgiana Peacher in Mary Stuart’s Ravishment Descending Time may well have given us the greatest passage on yellow eyes ever written, which I include here for, among other things, the edification of those undermedicated hacks, shameless book-a-year novelists, and jug-headed commercialists yahoos whose predictable prose comes cranking out of the trafila of their heads like streams of common pasta (104).

Yellow seems the perfect color to evince such a vitriolic run of the pen. At once sickly and weak it just as easily turns to exuberant luster. The sultry and louche lemonade pucker in no way disturbs the energetic primordial yellow, “I was going into the yellow” as Theroux quotes Marlow looking at a map of the Belgian Congo, “I was going into the yellow” (157).

As to barbaric richness of color, Francis Bacon, who wanted, among other things, to make the human scream into something “which would have the intensity and beauty of a Monet sunset,” like the color of blood, whether Antioch-red or paintbox bright or cherry: “It’s nothing to do with mortality, but it’s to do with the great beauty of the color of meat” (193).

Indeed, it is not accidental, I think, that  ”there is no red Necco wafer” (172). Of all the names for red: cochineal, carmine, rubious, crimson, scarlet, a seemingly endless array of nuance and aspects. The copse of all that red denotes, connotes or promotes seems to tangle Theroux a bit in the final essay. As if there is too much to feel in this - the true primary color (no matter the language, “red” is always the first color named after black and white). Love and death, fervor, pain, a blush, the saucy and tart - my heart! my heart! Cranberry that it is, bursting with bitterness, but ever awaiting the sweet start.

*luteous (from lutum, mud) one of those perfectly good English words completely ignored nowadays as pretentious and arch, except by literate people like Virgil, who in his day used the word “luteus” as a synonym for yellow (73).

** Print by Dana Jennings Rohn

A Frowsy Romance
"Cervantes thought that Romance was dying and that Reason might reasonably take its place. But I say that in our time Reason is dying, in that sense; and it is old age is really less respectable than the old romance. We want to recur to the more simple and direct attack. What we want now is somebody who does believe in tilting at giants." (292)  - G.K. Chesterton, The Return of Don Quixote
I really want this book to be made into a film. What’s more- I really want to be in the film version- black and white, set in the late twenties when cocktails with intriguing names were always to be found in one’s hand and repartee flowed and bubbled.
"I say, do you know your own librarian by sight, by any chance?""What on earth have librarians got to do with it?" asked Rosamund in her matter-of-fact way."Yes, of course, I know him. I don’t think anybody knows him well.""Sort of a book-worm, I suppose," observed Archer. "Well, we’re all worms," remarked Murrel cheerfully, "I suppose a book-worm shows a rather refined and superior taste in diet. But, look here, I rather want to catch that worm, like an early bird. I say, Rosamund, do be an early bird and catch him for me." (21)
I say, I do wish people spoke like this still. Such fun. Briefly stated,  this story, by G. K. Chesterton, balances on a librarian who is enlisted to fill in a part of a play set in the Medieval Age for a weekend party’s amusement. When the play is performed the heretofore retiring bookish librarian flat-out refuse to take his green tights off, or any other part of his costume, and the adventure, class wars, and asylum breakouts ensue.
But Murrel had something of the promptitude of a fencer leaping and lunging at the only loophole in what seemed like a labyrinth of parry and defence. He thrust into the aperture the wedge of a word” (123).
It’s not a book that moves deeply or alters one’s world view, but it is something of a madcap sprawl, (a jaunty hat) through the bizarreness of the struggle between reason and romance that Cervantes made so famous. The cheek and spot-on observations of Chesterton keep the story moving at a quick clip (strapped high heels clicking along the garden path….) but with a wonderfully effulgent elegance (long tight skirt, perhaps tweed?).
My dear Monkey, what’s the matter with you,” demanded Archer. “You seem to be quite sulky when everybody else is pleased.” “It’s not so offensive as being pleased when everybody else is sulky,” answered Murrel (251).
Somehow in this story everyone ends up happily coupled without ever having said very much at all about the matter. I’d love to learn that trick. Must be strictly an English trait of either complete genius or idiocy. Or perhaps that is Chesterton’s point, in matters of the heart, reason and its tools (words) are useless. I guess I’ll just straighten my (seamed) stockings and carry on tilting at giants.
For Mr. Douglas Murrel had by no means the intention of losing his faculty of enjoying the absurd with complete gravity (276).

A Frowsy Romance

"Cervantes thought that Romance was dying and that Reason might reasonably take its place. But I say that in our time Reason is dying, in that sense; and it is old age is really less respectable than the old romance. We want to recur to the more simple and direct attack. What we want now is somebody who does believe in tilting at giants." (292)  - G.K. Chesterton, The Return of Don Quixote

I really want this book to be made into a film. What’s more- I really want to be in the film version- black and white, set in the late twenties when cocktails with intriguing names were always to be found in one’s hand and repartee flowed and bubbled.

"I say, do you know your own librarian by sight, by any chance?"
"What on earth have librarians got to do with it?" asked Rosamund in her matter-of-fact way.
"Yes, of course, I know him. I don’t think anybody knows him well."
"Sort of a book-worm, I suppose," observed Archer. "Well, we’re all worms," remarked Murrel cheerfully, "I suppose a book-worm shows a rather refined and superior taste in diet. But, look here, I rather want to catch that worm, like an early bird. I say, Rosamund, do be an early bird and catch him for me."
 (21)

I say, I do wish people spoke like this still. Such fun. Briefly stated,  this story, by G. K. Chesterton, balances on a librarian who is enlisted to fill in a part of a play set in the Medieval Age for a weekend party’s amusement. When the play is performed the heretofore retiring bookish librarian flat-out refuse to take his green tights off, or any other part of his costume, and the adventure, class wars, and asylum breakouts ensue.

But Murrel had something of the promptitude of a fencer leaping and lunging at the only loophole in what seemed like a labyrinth of parry and defence. He thrust into the aperture the wedge of a word” (123).

It’s not a book that moves deeply or alters one’s world view, but it is something of a madcap sprawl, (a jaunty hat) through the bizarreness of the struggle between reason and romance that Cervantes made so famous. The cheek and spot-on observations of Chesterton keep the story moving at a quick clip (strapped high heels clicking along the garden path….) but with a wonderfully effulgent elegance (long tight skirt, perhaps tweed?).

My dear Monkey, what’s the matter with you,” demanded Archer. “You seem to be quite sulky when everybody else is pleased.” “It’s not so offensive as being pleased when everybody else is sulky,” answered Murrel (251).

Somehow in this story everyone ends up happily coupled without ever having said very much at all about the matter. I’d love to learn that trick. Must be strictly an English trait of either complete genius or idiocy. Or perhaps that is Chesterton’s point, in matters of the heart, reason and its tools (words) are useless. I guess I’ll just straighten my (seamed) stockings and carry on tilting at giants.

For Mr. Douglas Murrel had by no means the intention of losing his faculty of enjoying the absurd with complete gravity (276).

Pulp Non-Fiction
With the first commercial production of corrugated cardboard boxes around the turn of the century - making it possible for paper safely to send itself to itself by itself - the Age of Paper had reached its zenith (12).- Ian Sansom,  Paper: An Elegy
Paper Mosaic by Victoria Accardi
Ah paper. It’s an addiction. Ubiquitous, inescapably handy, romantic, radical, and deeply pleasurable. Ian Sansom understands. More than offering his condolences and commiserations, however, he, as it turns out, is something of a pusher.
'Junk,' Burroughs writes, 'is the ideal product….the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy…The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product…The addict…needs more and more junk to maintain a human form…[to] buy off the Monkey' (47)
Burroughs? Wait a second…here I was innocently reading a book about paper - (the book itself, by the way, is a lovely specimen to hold: elegant proportions, not too large, thick cream-colored paper one’s fingers simply must caress [Fedrigoni Edizioni Cream to be exact] in [as the colophon tells us]  ITC Giovanni book typeface….but I digress).
The chances are, if you are reading this book, you are no better or worse than William S. Burroughs. The chances are, you have a serious problem: you’re an addict. You have been sold to a product. You have a monkey on your back. And that monkey is made of paper (47).
Damn it.
'Paper is the material of temporary notation. It doesn't make a big difference whether this is in writing or is three-dimensional…It's a strange anything-material that can be anything, but is rarely itself…Basically it's the “Zelig” of all materials' (Thomas Demand quoted 128).
Sansom takes his readers on an irreverent but elucidating romp through the history and myriad uses of this most amazing material. Ephemera, toys, advertisements, art, cigarette and toilet paper, nothing is sacred. I got completely side tracked by a mere mention of an essay written by Junichiro Tanizaki  ”In Praise of Shadows” in which Tanizaki drolly and bitterly explains his difficulty in designing a house that meets his cultural aesthetic while making use of advancements-in-comfort designed and perfected by Western aesthetics. It was mentioned in Paper: An Elegy in relation to paper used in Japanese architecture, which darken the available light…impractical perhaps, but after reading three or four pages on the garish hideousness of Western lighting habits, particularly where toilets and the attending “physiological delights,” (as the novelist Natsume Soseki wryly describes his morning visit to the toilet) involved are concern, I see his point. I may not turn the lights on in my bathroom every again: “how very crude and tasteless to expose the toilet to such excessive illumination” (Tanizaki 3). Indeed.
Where were we? Ah yes, paper. Sansom’s book is wonderful fun. His writing style is the sort of understated humor that I love, and he presents many obscure and interesting aspects of paper’s long history. Sometimes twisted. Origami, for instance, is not the innocent little craft it appears (although, personally, I find it infuriating, with its ridiculously useless instructions) nevertheless, it was fascinating to learn that it is more of an Upper East Side invention popularized and named by one Lillian Oppenheimer then having any real connection to a long standing Japanese art. Another important contributor to Origami’s popularity was, hilariously,  Gershon Legman, whom Sansom describes as “the maverick Jewish sexologist” (151). Credited with being one of the inventors of the vibrator is among some of his other racy biographical bullet points. Yes, indeedy…paper has a very steamy history. By the time we get to Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, a woman who in her seventies invented the craft of paper flowers, Sansom can’t help just dropping in this gem:
Over the next sixteen years Mrs Delany continued to work scissors and tweezers and bodkin to make more and more of her paper flowers, almost a thousand of them, collecting them alphabetically in albums, which she named her Flora Delanica. The images - ‘intense and vaginal’, according to one of her recent biographers…(165).
Okay then. Paper. Who knew?
*Paper mosaic by Victoria Accardi

Pulp Non-Fiction

With the first commercial production of corrugated cardboard boxes around the turn of the century - making it possible for paper safely to send itself to itself by itself - the Age of Paper had reached its zenith (12).
Ian Sansom,  Paper: An Elegy


Paper Mosaic by Victoria Accardi

Ah paper. It’s an addiction. Ubiquitous, inescapably handy, romantic, radical, and deeply pleasurable. Ian Sansom understands. More than offering his condolences and commiserations, however, he, as it turns out, is something of a pusher.

'Junk,' Burroughs writes, 'is the ideal product….the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy…The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product…The addict…needs more and more junk to maintain a human form…[to] buy off the Monkey' (47)

Burroughs? Wait a second…here I was innocently reading a book about paper - (the book itself, by the way, is a lovely specimen to hold: elegant proportions, not too large, thick cream-colored paper one’s fingers simply must caress [Fedrigoni Edizioni Cream to be exact] in [as the colophon tells us]  ITC Giovanni book typeface….but I digress).

The chances are, if you are reading this book, you are no better or worse than William S. Burroughs. The chances are, you have a serious problem: you’re an addict. You have been sold to a product. You have a monkey on your back. And that monkey is made of paper (47).

Damn it.

'Paper is the material of temporary notation. It doesn't make a big difference whether this is in writing or is three-dimensional…It's a strange anything-material that can be anything, but is rarely itself…Basically it's the “Zelig” of all materials' (Thomas Demand quoted 128).

Sansom takes his readers on an irreverent but elucidating romp through the history and myriad uses of this most amazing material. Ephemera, toys, advertisements, art, cigarette and toilet paper, nothing is sacred. I got completely side tracked by a mere mention of an essay written by Junichiro Tanizaki  ”In Praise of Shadows” in which Tanizaki drolly and bitterly explains his difficulty in designing a house that meets his cultural aesthetic while making use of advancements-in-comfort designed and perfected by Western aesthetics. It was mentioned in Paper: An Elegy in relation to paper used in Japanese architecture, which darken the available light…impractical perhaps, but after reading three or four pages on the garish hideousness of Western lighting habits, particularly where toilets and the attending “physiological delights,” (as the novelist Natsume Soseki wryly describes his morning visit to the toilet) involved are concern, I see his point. I may not turn the lights on in my bathroom every again: “how very crude and tasteless to expose the toilet to such excessive illumination” (Tanizaki 3). Indeed.

Where were we? Ah yes, paper. Sansom’s book is wonderful fun. His writing style is the sort of understated humor that I love, and he presents many obscure and interesting aspects of paper’s long history. Sometimes twisted. Origami, for instance, is not the innocent little craft it appears (although, personally, I find it infuriating, with its ridiculously useless instructions) nevertheless, it was fascinating to learn that it is more of an Upper East Side invention popularized and named by one Lillian Oppenheimer then having any real connection to a long standing Japanese art. Another important contributor to Origami’s popularity was, hilariously,  Gershon Legman, whom Sansom describes as “the maverick Jewish sexologist” (151). Credited with being one of the inventors of the vibrator is among some of his other racy biographical bullet points. Yes, indeedy…paper has a very steamy history. By the time we get to Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, a woman who in her seventies invented the craft of paper flowers, Sansom can’t help just dropping in this gem:

Over the next sixteen years Mrs Delany continued to work scissors and tweezers and bodkin to make more and more of her paper flowers, almost a thousand of them, collecting them alphabetically in albums, which she named her Flora Delanica. The images - ‘intense and vaginal’, according to one of her recent biographers…(165).

Okay then. Paper. Who knew?

*Paper mosaic by Victoria Accardi

Prepare You Victuals
Sweetness kindledPush my heartPrepare you victualsPrepare you tartUntwist the riddleof the lame-wing’s dartLet us meet in the middleFor to make a start

Prepare You Victuals

Sweetness kindled
Push my heart
Prepare you victuals
Prepare you tart
Untwist the riddle
of the lame-wing’s dart
Let us meet in the middle
For to make a start

Prepare You Victuals

Prepare You Victuals

Coenesthesia of Art
All remarks as to the ways and means by which experiences arise or are brought about are technical, but critical remarks are about the values of experiences and the reasons for regarding them as valuable, or not valuable (23). - I.A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism
The book Principles of Literary Criticism was mentioned in The Story of Ain’t  andfor some reason, I felt I had to read it. Published in 1924, Richards seems to use perspectives in psychology to try to understand the value of the arts and outline principles with which to appreciate and critique them.
The basis of morality, as Shelley insisted, is laid not by preachers but by poets. Bad taste and crude responses are not mere flaws in an otherwise admirable person. They are actually a root evil from which other defects flow. No life can be excellent in which the elementary responses are disorganised and confused (62).
I came across Andrew Wyeth’s study for his painting Black Velvet the other day in the book Writers on Artists. The writer was John Updike and the focus of his essay was (mostly) on his complaining of the titillating speculation and hype surrounding the relationship between Wyeth and his long time model Helga Testorf (Black Velvet is one of the so-named “Helga Series”). I sent a picture of the finished painting via facebook to my daughter because she loves this series of works (I couldn’t find the above study online, for this post I scanned the image from the book). My oldest son commented on it, “that’s creepy.”
The two pillars upon which a theory of criticism must rest are an account of value and an account of communication. We do not sufficiently realise how great a part of our experience takes the form it does, because we are social beings and accustomed to communication from infancy (25).
I looked at the painting as it must have appeared to him, a woman lying corpse-like, almost being swallowed by a rich black background against which her hair, individually limned with golden light, glimmered intoxicatingly.
There is no kind of mental activity in which memory does not intervene (106).
But it was exactly her pose that had resonated with me. I told him: never mind the obvious reference to Manet’s Olympia, or the beautiful lines and (in the painting) the use of lights and darks - it is her pose! That it happens to be the exact position that I sleep in fascinates me, (as my children have, even a friend once checked to see if I was alive when we once shared a bed, I was so persistent in my odd, still repose).
Tragedy - is still the form under which the mind may most clearly and freely contemplate the human situation, its issues unclouded, its possibilities revealed (69).
The hands over her chest, wanting to cover her heart, her crossed limp feet, head turned away- it is evocative of a vulnerability, a melancholy and…becalmed spirit that so overwhelms. Quite the opposite of Olympia’s pointed command and assurance.
We rarely change our tastes, we rather find them changed (198).
My son’s two word reaction made me organise my thoughts about my own judgments. What made me stare at it, feel and think so deeply? For Richards, that is the very key - organising the chaos of our thoughts as a direct function of critique. Yes we all have thoughts and/or feelings, but it is the making sense of them and the communication of them with which the artist intuits and the viewer aspires to illume meaningful existence.
To put it briefly the best life is that in which as much as possible of our possible personalities is engaged. And of two personalities that one is the better in which there is more which can be engaged without confusion. We all know people of unusually wide and varied possibilities who pay for their width in disorder, and we know others who pay for their order with narrowness (288).
It doesn’t matter that my son and I had different reactions, only that we have an organized and expansive sense of ourselves with which to understand our reactions - because we always react. Literature and the arts engage sense and sensibility, order and organic harmony, through which we discover we are more than all that we see, hear and read. We are more than all this.

*title from Chapter XIII, Emotion and Coenesthesia:  In alluding to the coenesthesia we came very near to giving an account of emotion as an ingredient of consciousness (98). […]  As a rule a process of extraordinary complexity takes place between perceiving the situation and finding a mode of meeting it. This complicated process contributes the rest of its peculiar flavour to an emotional experience (102).

Coenesthesia of Art

All remarks as to the ways and means by which experiences arise or are brought about are technical, but critical remarks are about the values of experiences and the reasons for regarding them as valuable, or not valuable (23). - I.A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism

The book Principles of Literary Criticism was mentioned in The Story of Ain’t  andfor some reason, I felt I had to read it. Published in 1924, Richards seems to use perspectives in psychology to try to understand the value of the arts and outline principles with which to appreciate and critique them.

The basis of morality, as Shelley insisted, is laid not by preachers but by poets. Bad taste and crude responses are not mere flaws in an otherwise admirable person. They are actually a root evil from which other defects flow. No life can be excellent in which the elementary responses are disorganised and confused (62).

I came across Andrew Wyeth’s study for his painting Black Velvet the other day in the book Writers on Artists. The writer was John Updike and the focus of his essay was (mostly) on his complaining of the titillating speculation and hype surrounding the relationship between Wyeth and his long time model Helga Testorf (Black Velvet is one of the so-named “Helga Series”). I sent a picture of the finished painting via facebook to my daughter because she loves this series of works (I couldn’t find the above study online, for this post I scanned the image from the book). My oldest son commented on it, “that’s creepy.”

The two pillars upon which a theory of criticism must rest are an account of value and an account of communication. We do not sufficiently realise how great a part of our experience takes the form it does, because we are social beings and accustomed to communication from infancy (25).

I looked at the painting as it must have appeared to him, a woman lying corpse-like, almost being swallowed by a rich black background against which her hair, individually limned with golden light, glimmered intoxicatingly.

There is no kind of mental activity in which memory does not intervene (106).

But it was exactly her pose that had resonated with me. I told him: never mind the obvious reference to Manet’s Olympia, or the beautiful lines and (in the painting) the use of lights and darks - it is her pose! That it happens to be the exact position that I sleep in fascinates me, (as my children have, even a friend once checked to see if I was alive when we once shared a bed, I was so persistent in my odd, still repose).

Tragedy - is still the form under which the mind may most clearly and freely contemplate the human situation, its issues unclouded, its possibilities revealed (69).

The hands over her chest, wanting to cover her heart, her crossed limp feet, head turned away- it is evocative of a vulnerability, a melancholy and…becalmed spirit that so overwhelms. Quite the opposite of Olympia’s pointed command and assurance.

We rarely change our tastes, we rather find them changed (198).

My son’s two word reaction made me organise my thoughts about my own judgments. What made me stare at it, feel and think so deeply? For Richards, that is the very key - organising the chaos of our thoughts as a direct function of critique. Yes we all have thoughts and/or feelings, but it is the making sense of them and the communication of them with which the artist intuits and the viewer aspires to illume meaningful existence.

To put it briefly the best life is that in which as much as possible of our possible personalities is engaged. And of two personalities that one is the better in which there is more which can be engaged without confusion. We all know people of unusually wide and varied possibilities who pay for their width in disorder, and we know others who pay for their order with narrowness (288).

It doesn’t matter that my son and I had different reactions, only that we have an organized and expansive sense of ourselves with which to understand our reactions - because we always react. Literature and the arts engage sense and sensibility, order and organic harmony, through which we discover we are more than all that we see, hear and read. We are more than all this.

*title from Chapter XIII, Emotion and Coenesthesia:  In alluding to the coenesthesia we came very near to giving an account of emotion as an ingredient of consciousness (98). […]  As a rule a process of extraordinary complexity takes place between perceiving the situation and finding a mode of meeting it. This complicated process contributes the rest of its peculiar flavour to an emotional experience (102).

The Mystery of Thing Three
My friend, eleven year old son, and I went to the Springfield Museum this weekend, ostensibly to see the current show on art forgeries. And see it we did. But the funny thing about going to a museum and seeing collections in person is that you never know…you can’t know what will grasp your imagination. We are all so used to choosing what we look at in this internet “bubble of one” (as Eli Pariser put it) that we lose sight of life’s best aspect- surprise.
Very briefly- the surprise was not the show concerning forgeries, rather we were all transfixed by a strange looming painting by Erastus Salisbury Field (what a name!). My friend, Tasha Depp, has written about it eloquently on her blog from an artist’s viewpoint.
At this point, you may have noticed that the picture with which I lead this post is not Erastus, but rather Giovanni Battista Piranesi. This etching was made some one hundred years before the epic work of Erastus, (pardon me for the informality, but I simply love the name) but I could not put the work of Piranesi out of my mind while viewing Erastus’ unusual and thematically similar work.
Historical Monument of the American Republic- Field, 1867-88
In concert, they strike me as one thing viewed from opposing directions. Piranesi’s work was all about the decrepitude, majesty and horror of the past: the “towering achievements” of mankind and nature’s momentary recapturing of ground. The glance is backwards, at once in awe of man’s splendour, as well as nature’s rebuke.
This tiny image on your screen of Erastus’s work was in fact something like nine feet by five (not sure why the brochure does not specify the size). The experience of standing close enough to read the text was completely different to standing back several feet and taking the whole world in at one time.
Like Piranesi (perhaps even artistically quoting him), Erastus makes use of art as an historical/political guide (including text, as well as a key to map out the historical events to which he represents -his painting focuses on the “conflict between the northern and southern states that culminated in the Civil War” [the hall where his work is hung has a handy brochure explaining his bio and specific detail of this work]), the towers of shame or enlightened achievement side by side leading to a fascinatingly weird railroad in the sky.
Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of seeing this odd work - it was the very first painting we came to after, as Tasha notes on her blog, spending some time in the Dr. Suess garden. In fact the order may have been key- we were mesmerized by a huge structure made of dried vines that had the look of Russian onion domes, then we loitered around bronze sculptures of  Thing One and Thing Two, and then- Erastus.
Our minds were prepped in a certain way….so that the combination of the hilariously neatly curbed foreground and the utopian skyway made me think this painting, a paeon to industry,  is one that is anticipating a glorious future made from the ground up by man’s reason. It has a “we can do it!” declaration that seems painfully earnest in hindsight. Perhaps if Erastus had taken Piranesi’s message a little more to heart he might have tempered his hopeful tone.
But…maybe the truth, or the beauty,  is- we don’t know. Call it foolish earnest hope, or the glory of mystery….At any moment we can walk into a room, turn a corner and be struck dumb with wonder.

The Mystery of Thing Three

My friend, eleven year old son, and I went to the Springfield Museum this weekend, ostensibly to see the current show on art forgeries. And see it we did. But the funny thing about going to a museum and seeing collections in person is that you never know…you can’t know what will grasp your imagination. We are all so used to choosing what we look at in this internet “bubble of one” (as Eli Pariser put it) that we lose sight of life’s best aspect- surprise.

Very briefly- the surprise was not the show concerning forgeries, rather we were all transfixed by a strange looming painting by Erastus Salisbury Field (what a name!). My friend, Tasha Depp, has written about it eloquently on her blog from an artist’s viewpoint.

At this point, you may have noticed that the picture with which I lead this post is not Erastus, but rather Giovanni Battista Piranesi. This etching was made some one hundred years before the epic work of Erastus, (pardon me for the informality, but I simply love the name) but I could not put the work of Piranesi out of my mind while viewing Erastus’ unusual and thematically similar work.

Erastus_Salisbury_Field_-_Historical_Monument_of_the_American_RepublicHistorical Monument of the American Republic- Field, 1867-88

In concert, they strike me as one thing viewed from opposing directions. Piranesi’s work was all about the decrepitude, majesty and horror of the past: the “towering achievements” of mankind and nature’s momentary recapturing of ground. The glance is backwards, at once in awe of man’s splendour, as well as nature’s rebuke.

This tiny image on your screen of Erastus’s work was in fact something like nine feet by five (not sure why the brochure does not specify the size). The experience of standing close enough to read the text was completely different to standing back several feet and taking the whole world in at one time.

Like Piranesi (perhaps even artistically quoting him), Erastus makes use of art as an historical/political guide (including text, as well as a key to map out the historical events to which he represents -his painting focuses on the “conflict between the northern and southern states that culminated in the Civil War” [the hall where his work is hung has a handy brochure explaining his bio and specific detail of this work]), the towers of shame or enlightened achievement side by side leading to a fascinatingly weird railroad in the sky.

Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of seeing this odd work - it was the very first painting we came to after, as Tasha notes on her blog, spending some time in the Dr. Suess garden. In fact the order may have been key- we were mesmerized by a huge structure made of dried vines that had the look of Russian onion domes, then we loitered around bronze sculptures of  Thing One and Thing Two, and then- Erastus.

Our minds were prepped in a certain way….so that the combination of the hilariously neatly curbed foreground and the utopian skyway made me think this painting, a paeon to industry,  is one that is anticipating a glorious future made from the ground up by man’s reason. It has a “we can do it!” declaration that seems painfully earnest in hindsight. Perhaps if Erastus had taken Piranesi’s message a little more to heart he might have tempered his hopeful tone.

But…maybe the truth, or the beauty,  is- we don’t know. Call it foolish earnest hope, or the glory of mystery….At any moment we can walk into a room, turn a corner and be struck dumb with wonder.

Getting Appley
He knew, as an artist, that the only bit of a woman which nowadays escapes being ready-made and ready-known cliché is the appley part of her (205).- D.H. Lawrence, from essay “Cézanne” in Writers on Artists

Love is like this. The other day I found myself sitting on the library floor, in between the stacks, pulling every Cézanne book I saw off of the shelves. Okay, I didn’t mysteriously find myself there. But in my defense, it was an unusually slow day at the library. For the first time that I have ever worked there I had shelved every single item and then alphabetized every thing else that had to wait (DVDs that needed security casings, for instance) I was at an awkward impasse- finally I mustered the courage to ask if it would be alright if I read, while maintaining a veneer of readiness should work arrive, of course.
He could not masturbate, in paints or words. And that is saying a very great deal, today; today, the great day of the masturbating consciousness, when the mind prostitutes the sensitive responsive body, and just forces the reactions. The masturbating consciousness produces all kinds of novelties, which thrill for the moment, then go very dead (203).
What joy! I was finally able to get to the essay by D.H. Lawrence on Cézanne that had been the reason I had checked the book out (the book: Writers on Artist is one I came across whilst shelving; I couldn’t resist a perusal, and Lawrence settled the thing. I would have to read it. It is a wonderful compilation edited by Daniel Halpern of some forty essays). The preceding essay had also focused on Cézanne- actually it was not so much an essay as parts of letters written by Rilke to his wife,Clara, relating his frequent, lovingly obsessive visits to the Salon. It was marvelous. Rilke makes me love life, love writing, love art, and not worry so much about the essay length letters I inflict upon my friends…. But - Lawrence. I finished his essay and (may have) let a skipping gait take me deep into the stacks (working in the Arts and Music section has its benefits).
Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple. Suddenly he felt the tyranny of the mind, the white, worn-out arrogance of the spirit, the mental consciousness, the enclosed ego in its sky-blue heaven self-painted. He felt the sky-blue prison (201).
Sitting on the floor, I took down one of the large heavy books and it fell open to Apples and Biscuits. I gasped. It’s not that I haven’t seen Cézanne’s work, of course I have seen many works in books, some works in actuality, but…something about this one - I could have spent hours gazing at it- so much for my veneer of readiness- I sank into the floor.
But we have to remember, in his figure paintings, that while he was painting the appleyness he was also deliberately painting out the so-called humanness, the personality, the “likeness,” the physical cliché.[…] Try as he might, woman remained a known ready-made cliché object to him […] Except his wife - and in his wife he did at least know the appelyness (206).
And what woman doesn’t want her appleyness known? Indeed, what person doesn’t long to share one’s appleyness with another? Curiously this particular painting was not to be found in any of the other books. But this was the one. This one sang sweetly right into my ear, piercing my soul. The hard floor and artificial light fell away as the apples teased, excited and calmed my heart in imperceptible turns. The joyful humor of the domesticity of the plate of biscuits, and that beautiful wall…it was love at first sight.
It was not Zola who understood what the point was; Balzac had sensed long ahead that, in painting, something so tremendous can suddenly present itself, which no one can handle. -Rainer Maria Rilke ”The Cézanne Inscape”
Maybe this comes close (it certainly does if you have to pleasure to sing it, as I will this Saturday):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sGp1tXoyes
That appleyness is our very worth, the core of our humanity, the rounded ripe beauty of our souls. When it is discovered and felt, a sort of primordial roar is released. When we see it or hear it, the tremendous truth is awing. The veneer, cliché, and inauthentic are blasted away. The struggle to maintain what we instinctively feel in the face of cynical convention or mawkish insincerity never really ends - if we can just maintain some space of clarity within (through music, through art) so that when we come across the appelyness - we know we were right all along.
It’s the real appelyness, and you can’t imitate it. Every man must create it new and different out of himself: new and different (Lawrence 206). 

Getting Appley

He knew, as an artist, that the only bit of a woman which nowadays escapes being ready-made and ready-known cliché is the appley part of her (205).
- D.H. Lawrence, from essay “Cézanne” in Writers on Artists

Love is like this. The other day I found myself sitting on the library floor, in between the stacks, pulling every Cézanne book I saw off of the shelves. Okay, I didn’t mysteriously find myself there. But in my defense, it was an unusually slow day at the library. For the first time that I have ever worked there I had shelved every single item and then alphabetized every thing else that had to wait (DVDs that needed security casings, for instance) I was at an awkward impasse- finally I mustered the courage to ask if it would be alright if I read, while maintaining a veneer of readiness should work arrive, of course.

He could not masturbate, in paints or words. And that is saying a very great deal, today; today, the great day of the masturbating consciousness, when the mind prostitutes the sensitive responsive body, and just forces the reactions. The masturbating consciousness produces all kinds of novelties, which thrill for the moment, then go very dead (203).

What joy! I was finally able to get to the essay by D.H. Lawrence on Cézanne that had been the reason I had checked the book out (the book: Writers on Artist is one I came across whilst shelving; I couldn’t resist a perusal, and Lawrence settled the thing. I would have to read it. It is a wonderful compilation edited by Daniel Halpern of some forty essays). The preceding essay had also focused on Cézanne- actually it was not so much an essay as parts of letters written by Rilke to his wife,Clara, relating his frequent, lovingly obsessive visits to the Salon. It was marvelous. Rilke makes me love life, love writing, love art, and not worry so much about the essay length letters I inflict upon my friends…. But - Lawrence. I finished his essay and (may have) let a skipping gait take me deep into the stacks (working in the Arts and Music section has its benefits).

Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple. Suddenly he felt the tyranny of the mind, the white, worn-out arrogance of the spirit, the mental consciousness, the enclosed ego in its sky-blue heaven self-painted. He felt the sky-blue prison (201).

Sitting on the floor, I took down one of the large heavy books and it fell open to Apples and Biscuits. I gasped. It’s not that I haven’t seen Cézanne’s work, of course I have seen many works in books, some works in actuality, but…something about this one - I could have spent hours gazing at it- so much for my veneer of readiness- I sank into the floor.

But we have to remember, in his figure paintings, that while he was painting the appleyness he was also deliberately painting out the so-called humanness, the personality, the “likeness,” the physical cliché.[…] Try as he might, woman remained a known ready-made cliché object to him […] Except his wife - and in his wife he did at least know the appelyness (206).

And what woman doesn’t want her appleyness known? Indeed, what person doesn’t long to share one’s appleyness with another? Curiously this particular painting was not to be found in any of the other books. But this was the one. This one sang sweetly right into my ear, piercing my soul. The hard floor and artificial light fell away as the apples teased, excited and calmed my heart in imperceptible turns. The joyful humor of the domesticity of the plate of biscuits, and that beautiful wall…it was love at first sight.

It was not Zola who understood what the point was; Balzac had sensed long ahead that, in painting, something so tremendous can suddenly present itself, which no one can handle. -Rainer Maria Rilke ”The Cézanne Inscape”

Maybe this comes close (it certainly does if you have to pleasure to sing it, as I will this Saturday):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sGp1tXoyes

That appleyness is our very worth, the core of our humanity, the rounded ripe beauty of our souls. When it is discovered and felt, a sort of primordial roar is released. When we see it or hear it, the tremendous truth is awing. The veneer, cliché, and inauthentic are blasted away. The struggle to maintain what we instinctively feel in the face of cynical convention or mawkish insincerity never really ends - if we can just maintain some space of clarity within (through music, through art) so that when we come across the appelyness - we know we were right all along.

It’s the real appelyness, and you can’t imitate it. Every man must create it new and different out of himself: new and different (Lawrence 206). 

WITHDRAWN
System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy. - Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (81)
I spent the greater part of my working hours this past week removing books from the library shelves and stamping them “withdrawn.” Feeling something of the executioner, I began to muse on the psychological effect it might have on me to stamp the word, “withdrawn” “withdrawn” “WITHDRAWN” over and over again.
One further limitation of System 1 is that it can not be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it (25)
Daniel Kahneman’s fascinating book, Thinking Fast and Slow names the differing ways of thinking, respectively, System 1 and System 2. The part we know and believe to be firmly in control is System 2, all activity that requires conscious thought lives in this system. The unfortunate news that Kahneman shares in his book is the overwhelming evidence that System 1 is in fact (smugly, no doubt) running the show. System 1 is so firmly in control of our reactions, impressions, and judgements, that it hardly need deign to acknowledge its domination.
The technical definition of heuristics is a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions. The word comes from the same root as eureka (98).
Admittedly heuristics is a good thing. We are not after all computers and lack the ability to algorithmically function in real time. Lord knows I’m all for split second, heuristics. Or so I thought. I don’t want to make an enemy of my own brain, but the fact that System 1’s default attitude is to believe, always to believe, concerns me.
declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true (212).
Halo effect, illusions of validity, hindsight effect, coherence, over confidence, context dependency- the list of pit falls, oversights, blind spots and standard issue mental sloth is depressing me. Standing in the back of the stacks with my red stamp - withdrawn, withdrawn, withdrawn, the frame of my life takes on a rather pathetic hue. What might I be feeling if the word was “discard?” I shudder to think. But never mind “discard,” the depressing point, according to Kahneman is that if the word had been “keep” or “valued” I probably would not have even noticed. It doesn’t fit into my story.
A single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches (302).
As the acidic paper of the books I remove from the shelves flake and fall, strewing my hair and the floor with brittle specks of lonely confetti, I force System 2 to step it up. How we frame events, the tension between our remembering selves and our experiencing selves  makes a real difference to the actual quality of our lives. Kahneman mentions movements and policies, at the end of the book, that aim to help us help ourselves when dealing with all of our innate (and not always negative) judgment disabilities. And that is some cause for celebration. For hope.
Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound (367).
An admission that we know nothing,  yet relentlessly protect our belief systems against reality, is a healthy thing to keep in mind - I’m talking to you System 1! Understanding how profound our mental biases and tendencies are leaves me feeling that much more like useless confetti helplessly blowing about- it’s no use! but, never fear- my optimism bias kicks in and I just KNOW that acceptance is the first step! All is well, all goes well, all goes as well as it possibly could - oh dear, I must confess my cynicism bias can kick my optimism bias’s ass any day of the week…..In the meantime I take some solace in the ineluctable certainly that, it is not just me. My predictable predilection of perception fallibility is matched only by yours. Solidarity, my fellow humans!
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it (402)

WITHDRAWN

System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy. 
- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (81)

I spent the greater part of my working hours this past week removing books from the library shelves and stamping them “withdrawn.” Feeling something of the executioner, I began to muse on the psychological effect it might have on me to stamp the word, “withdrawn” “withdrawn” “WITHDRAWN” over and over again.

One further limitation of System 1 is that it can not be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it (25)

Daniel Kahneman’s fascinating book, Thinking Fast and Slow names the differing ways of thinking, respectively, System 1 and System 2. The part we know and believe to be firmly in control is System 2, all activity that requires conscious thought lives in this system. The unfortunate news that Kahneman shares in his book is the overwhelming evidence that System 1 is in fact (smugly, no doubt) running the show. System 1 is so firmly in control of our reactions, impressions, and judgements, that it hardly need deign to acknowledge its domination.

The technical definition of heuristics is a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions. The word comes from the same root as eureka (98).

Admittedly heuristics is a good thing. We are not after all computers and lack the ability to algorithmically function in real time. Lord knows I’m all for split second, heuristics. Or so I thought. I don’t want to make an enemy of my own brain, but the fact that System 1’s default attitude is to believe, always to believe, concerns me.

declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true (212).

Halo effect, illusions of validity, hindsight effect, coherence, over confidence, context dependency- the list of pit falls, oversights, blind spots and standard issue mental sloth is depressing me. Standing in the back of the stacks with my red stamp - withdrawn, withdrawn, withdrawn, the frame of my life takes on a rather pathetic hue. What might I be feeling if the word was “discard?” I shudder to think. But never mind “discard,” the depressing point, according to Kahneman is that if the word had been “keep” or “valued” I probably would not have even noticed. It doesn’t fit into my story.

A single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches (302).

As the acidic paper of the books I remove from the shelves flake and fall, strewing my hair and the floor with brittle specks of lonely confetti, I force System 2 to step it up. How we frame events, the tension between our remembering selves and our experiencing selves  makes a real difference to the actual quality of our lives. Kahneman mentions movements and policies, at the end of the book, that aim to help us help ourselves when dealing with all of our innate (and not always negative) judgment disabilities. And that is some cause for celebration. For hope.

Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound (367).

An admission that we know nothing,  yet relentlessly protect our belief systems against reality, is a healthy thing to keep in mind - I’m talking to you System 1! Understanding how profound our mental biases and tendencies are leaves me feeling that much more like useless confetti helplessly blowing about- it’s no use! but, never fear- my optimism bias kicks in and I just KNOW that acceptance is the first step! All is well, all goes well, all goes as well as it possibly could - oh dear, I must confess my cynicism bias can kick my optimism bias’s ass any day of the week…..In the meantime I take some solace in the ineluctable certainly that, it is not just me. My predictable predilection of perception fallibility is matched only by yours. Solidarity, my fellow humans!

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it (402)