Ktismatics

8 February 2012

Stoner by Williams, 1965

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 11:41 am

It quieted enough for everyone in the room to hear the door at the rear of the hall creak open and to hear a distinctive, slow shuffle of feet on the bare wood floor. They turned; and the hum of their conversation died. Someone whispered, “It’s Lomax,” and the sound was sharp and audible through the room.

He had come through the door, closed it, and had advanced a few steps beyond the threshold, where he now stood. He was a man barely over five feet in height, and his body was grotesquely misshapen. A small hump raised his left shoulder to his neck, and his left arm hung laxly at his side. His upper body was heavy and curved, so that he appeared to be always struggling for balance; his legs were thin, and he walked with a hitch in his stiff right leg. For several moments he stood with his blond head bent downward, as if he were inspecting his highly polished black shoes and the sharp crease of his black trousers. Then he lifted his head and shot his right arm out, exposing a stiff white length of cuff with gold links; there was a cigarette in his long pale fingers. He took a deep drag, inhaled, and expelled the smoke in a thin stream. And then they could see his face.

It was the face of a matinee idol. Long and thin and mobile, it was nevertheless strongly featured; his forehead was high and narrow, with heavy veins, and his thick waving hair, the color of ripe wheat, swept back from it in a somewhat theatrical pompadour. He dropped his cigarette on the floor, ground it beneath his sole, and spoke.

“I am Lomax.” He paused; his voice, rich and deep, articulated his words precisely, with a dramatic resonance. “I hope I have not disrupted your meeting.”

Lomax was quite drunk, though not ostentatiously so; he walked carefully, as if he carried a burden over uneven terrain, and his thin pale face shone through a film of sweat. The liquor loosened his tongue; and though he spoke precisely, his voice lost its edge of irony, and he appeared without defenses.

He spoke of the loneliness of his childhood in Ohio, where his father had been a fairly successful small businessman; he told, as of another person, of the desolation that his deformity had forced upon him, of the early shame which had no source that he could understand and no defense that he could muster. And when he told of the long days and evenings he had spent alone in his room, reading to escape the limitations that his twisted body imposed upon him and finding gradually a sense of freedom that grew more intense as he came to understand the nature of that freedom — when he told of this, William Stoner felt a kinship that he had not suspected; he knew that Lomax and gone through a kind of conversion, an epiphany of knowing something through words that could not be put in words, as Stoner himself had once done, in the class taught by Archer Sloane. Lomax had come to it early, and alone, so that the knowledge was more nearly a part of himself than it was a part of Stoner; but in the way that was finally most important, the two men were alike, though neither of them might wish to admit it to the other, or even to himself.

They talked till nearly four in the morning; and though they drank more, their talk grew quieter and quieter, until at last no one spoke at all. They sat close together amid the debris of the party, as if on an island, huddling together for warmth and assurance. After a while Gordon and Caroline Finch got up and offered to drive Lomax to his rooms. Lomax shook Stoner’s hand, asked him about his book, and wished him success with it; he walked over to Edith, who was sitting erect in a straight chair, and took her hand; he thanked her for the party. Then, as if on a quiet impulse, he bent a little and touched his lips to hers; Edith’s hand came up lightly to his hair, and they remained so for several moments while the others looked on. It was the chastest kiss Stoner had ever seen, and it seemed perfectly natural.

Stoner saw his guests out the front door and lingered a few moments, watching them descend the steps and walk out of the light from the porch. The cold air settled around him and clung; he breathed deeply, and the sharp coldness invigorated him. He closed the door reluctantly and turned; the living room was empty; Edith had already gone upstairs. He turned the lights off and made his way across the cluttered room to the stairs. Already the house was becoming familiar to him; he grasped the balustrade he could not see and let himself be guided upward. When he got to the top of the stairs he could see his way, for the hall was illumined by the light from the half-opened door of the bedroom. The boards creaked as he walked down the hall and went into the bedroom.

Edith’s clothes were flung in disarray on the floor beside the bed, the covers of which had been thrown back carelessly; she lay naked and glistening under the light of the white unwrinkled sheet. Her body was lax and wanton in its naked sprawl, and it shone like pale gold. William came nearer the bed. She was fast asleep, but in a trick of the light her slightly opened mouth seemed to shape the soundless words of passion and love. He stood looking at her for a long time. He felt a distant pity and reluctant friendship and familiar respect; and he felt also a weary sadness, for he knew that no longer could the sight of her bring upon him the agony of desire that he had once known, and knew that he would never again be moved as he had once been moved by her presence. The sadness lessened, and he covered her gently, turned out the light, and got in bed beside her.

The next morning Edith was ill and tired, and she spent the day in her room. William cleaned the house and attended to his daughter. On Monday he saw Lomax and spoke to him with a warmth that trailed from the night of the party; Lomax answered him with an irony that was like cold anger, and did not speak of the party that day or thereafter. It was as if he had discovered an enmity to hold him apart from Stoner, and he would not let it go.

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29 Comments »

  1. Here’s what I had to say about Stoner at Omburbhuva, who first told me about the book:

    Almost reluctantly I found myself both admiring and enjoying Stoner, which shares the depressing realism of Revolutionary Road and Easter Parade. Again, the story and prose feel old-fashioned, but then Stoner is an old-fashioned character, a kind of rough classic thwarted by the hard modernity of his time and place. At the same time one gets the sense that he was born too early, that he’d have more room to breathe had he come on the scene a few decades later. My reluctance stems I think from the narrator’s evident fondness for Stoner, whose tragedies are pinned on his cold hysterical wife and his vindictive boss and the intolerance of bourgeois middle-American society. It might, though, be a distinctive genius of Williams to allow the reader slowly to develop, on his own as it were, a frustration with and even a mild disdain for the passive stoicism of Stoner. It’s a memorable book.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 February 2012 @ 4:36 pm

  2. The sculpting of Lomax, all botched except for the head.
    The weighing of Stoner’s regard for his wife –He felt a distant pity and reluctant friendship and familiar respect; and he felt also a weary sadness, as though ‘distant’, ‘reluctant’, ‘familiar’ and ‘weary’ were weights being added and also with a faint Anglo-Saxon love of the adjectival roll.

    Very fine extracts. Stoner is a honourable man, lives that way and dies that way and that isn’t a bad life even with its scabrous surface that we shrink from.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 February 2012 @ 4:38 pm

  3. “Anglo-Saxon love of the adjectival roll” — is that a distinctive characteristic? I didn’t realize you’d read this book, Om. As I said, I’m not sold on Stoner’s unimpeachable honor as justification for his refusal to act. He’s so pleased with his little rebellion against Lomax, but arguably he perpetrates it at the expense of his first-year students. Of course the narrator assures the reader that Stoner’s students ultimately outperformed the other students as upperclassmen — so if this was such a clever teaching strategy why didn’t he stick with it? To an extent the book becomes an indictment of a particular kind of honor: maintaining one’s personal integrity at the expense of one’s own happiness while refusing to act on behalf of a larger justice. It’s the Protestant ethic in which he was raised, by which he was surrounded, and ultimately against which he could envision no alternative.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 February 2012 @ 5:54 pm

  4. All of the other characters are caricatures, foils against which the narrator is able to illustrate Stoner’s excellence. The bitchy castrating wife, the department chair with such a chip on his shoulder that it makes him a hunchback, the bullshit-artist male grad student whom Stoner exposes under relentless cross-examination as not actually knowing anything substantive about lit’ratuah, the brilliant sexy young female grad student who falls head over heels for our middle-aged hero and who never subsequently marries after the affair ends, etc. So Stoner would have written more scholarly books if only his wife hadn’t taken over his home office, forcing him to work in the sun room where it gets so hot in the summer and he can’t have all of his books right next to his desk? And then his university colleagues talked so disruptively with their students around their shared office that he just couldn’t get anything done there either? And he goes for ten years without talking to his beloved daughter because his wife moves her little desk out of his office and devotes a few months forcing her to go to parties? These moves seem so transparent in reading the book 40+ years after publication, one hopes that the author intended them to be transparent to his contemporaries as well. But I can’t entirely shake the sneaking suspicion that Williams has created a fantasy justifying a particular kind of person, perhaps a person not unlike the author. Still, as I said, I found the prose admirable, the story engaging, the details of character and setting skillfully rendered.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2012 @ 5:50 am

  5. Unfortunately there are women like Edith, I salute your good fortune if you haven’t met any. Who was that woman some years ago who seemed to have internalized both Edith and Lomax – she shot members of a committee who refused her tenure. In the annals of literature you have Zelda Fitzgerald and Countess Tolstoy who made things very difficult for their spouses. Writing is hard enough even with a room of one’s own but to have it turned into a lumber room with a broken window is not conducive to the Olympian calm or any sort of calm that allows for creative work of the academic sort.

    Williams in a prefatory note assures his former colleagues in the Department of English at the University of Missouri that there is no portrayal in the book of “any person, living or dead, and that no event has its counterpart in the reality we knew at the University of Missouri”. Just in case you might think so. The estimable Waggish
    http://www.waggish.org/2008/john-williams-stoner/
    who reads like he has done some brachiating through the groves of Academia finds the departmental politics and civil war au courant.

    Stoner lacks that useful trait, righteous irascibility, which can also work against you.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 9 February 2012 @ 2:03 pm

  6. I’ve also met men like Stoner. Edith too could have been honorably heroic if she’d had the right narrator. After her father’s suicide we get the ominous hint that Edith and her father were “much closer than they seemed,” with Edith burning and pulverizing every gift that he had ever given her. But given her nearly unremitting negative portrayal in the novel she might just as easily have been angry at his failure as the victim of his abuse.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 February 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  7. Like any of art it contains multitudes. There are harmonics and alternatives. Edith had some sort of too-close relationship with her father. She comes back to find a Daddy’s girl relationship between Bill and Grace. It’s benign but she can’t see that and begins a rescue. When Grace grows up she settles on a hapless man in the way her mother did. Bill’s hard scrabble training that imprints the strategy of the slow patient erosion of difficulties by getting up each day and going at it is not adequate to all levels, all quadrants (thanks Ken). He’s a Classic stoic dealing with Romantic intuitives, Lomax & Walker.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 February 2012 @ 5:58 am

  8. “a hapless man” — This was my question in my initial remarks: does Williams make the strategic presumption that his readers will recognize Stoner’s haplessness without the narrator having to point it out? The book was written in the mid-60s, when various liberating trends were beginning to shake up American culture. Stoner fits the older traditional American “manly” profile in his humble laconic stoicism and dogged persistence — think Gary Cooper in High Noon. But he’s an English teacher for God’s sake. Instead of going to war he stays at the university — the center and catalyst of anti-Vietnam War protest in the 60s. He lets his wife kick him out of his office and his bed. Instead of a high-noon showdown with his nemesis Lomax he deploys passive-aggressive indirect means.

    If the reader’s instinct is to dismiss Stoner as an emasculated loser, then it’s not only forgivable but clever for Williams’ narrator to be such a blind-eyed advocate of Stoner’s small and subtle victories. The ironically-named daughter Grace confronts Stoner with a final indictment: he can blame Edith for distorting the girl’s true nature, but he has to blame himself for acceding. Even if Stoner never self-reflexively criticizes himself in this regard, and even if the narrator never points an accusatory finger directly at Stoner, the reader must surely recognize his failure here. If so, then the brilliance of Williams’ portrait is that he allows what is not written, the judgments spontaneously taking shape in the reader’s head, to serve as counterpoint to the narrator’s written advocacy of Stoner’s case.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 6:37 am

  9. The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. Williams is writing about his father’s generation so we have to factor that into our view of the alternatives open to Stoner and Edith. It would be an anachronism to allow counterculture ideas to be active in a novel about that era. Freud had not reached Missouri but he was on his way.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 February 2012 @ 7:45 am

  10. Maybe my point wasn’t quite clear enough. While the story is set in the past, the readership is set in the present — or what was the present in 1965. It’s from the perspective of my grandfather’s generation, when men were men and women did what they were told, that Stoner would have been deemed a sissy. After all, women If I’m being charitable to Williams, I’d say that he was offering Stoner as a kind of forerunner to the more “metrosexual” era that was starting to take shape in the cities and the campuses. At the same time there’s regret about the future that’s coming, with repeated references to the still-standing pillars of a now-destroyed building, the ruins of a more classical, more majestic era in the Life of the Mind. And so we get the bullshitting grad student presaging the decline of true learning; we see the backhanded slap at women’s liberation when Edith comes back from the big city with her bobbed hair and her short dresses exerting her new-found confidence in a destructively self-centered way. It’s with the benefit of hindsight that Williams and his readers can recognize these trends in ways that Stoner could see only with vague apprehension. There is no mention of race, though I see that the U. of Missouri reluctantly integrated in 1950 — 6 years before Stoner’s death. Stoner isn’t attuned to these larger social issues. He seems to regard the wars apolitically as a temporary blip, an unfortunate distraction from the work of the university and a personal danger to those who take part, as well as for those who do not. He would like to live in the deep past, with his medieval manuscripts and his Latin translations, whereas he’s straddling an era that comprises his own short lifetime without making concessions or even acknowledgments. Heroic and hapless both.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 8:37 am

  11. “Freud had not reached Missouri but he was on his way.”

    I don’t know if your conjecture is relevant, Om, but I suspect that it’s not accurate. The Kinsey Institute for sex research was headquartered in Bloomington Indiana, another midwestern university town. Kinsey died in 1956, the same year as Stoner. The Menninger Clinic, the first group psychiatric practice in the US and the national center for training in psychodynamic analysis and therapy, was founded in 1919 in Topeka Kansas, a little town on the prairie. Stoner was on the faculty of an English department at a large state university: if he wasn’t aware of Freudianism through contemporary literature it’s another indicator that his insularity was professional as well as personal. My mother, who in the 40s graduated from a small college in the archetypal mid-American small town of Peoria, was an avid Freudian. He was a more popular figure in academic psychology then; by the time I went to grad school a generation later he merited no lectures, no discussion, no assigned readings.

    Edith spans the psychiatric era nicely. She begins as a repressed Victorian-era hysteric; she ends dismissing Stoner’s affair with his “little coed” as an unimportant fling. I wonder what repercussions there really would have been had Stoner told Lomax to shove his threats up his ass and continued his relationship with Katherine Driscoll. The narrator leads us to believe that he was protecting Grace from the scandal, but he did so little to protect Grace from her mother’s predations that I’m skeptical. His purported noble sacrifice was also a way of justifying, to himself and to his narrator, another manifestation of his habitual passivity.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 9:33 am

  12. To question whether the protagonist of a novel might have done other than they did must have appended to the inquiry the condition that the they stay within character. Anything else is senseless. A critics view of the character may well be contested. What one sees as stoicism another may see as passivity. Lack of reaction can be read as passive aggressive and so forth. In the end we only have the text to go on and it takes a certain sort of genius to make us accept an alteration in the determinism of character. Naturally people do unexpected things but this is very hard to portray fictionally. ‘At one bound he was free’ is for fairy stories. Stoner seems more of a tragic hero who as Hemingway said is destroyed but not defeated.

    Our discussion has brought me back to the novel. It draws one along. 1965 was not a good year for this sort of story. About Freud, you’re probably right.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 February 2012 @ 1:59 pm

  13. I don’t expect Stoner to step out of character — although of course he is a fictional character, invented by the author. “‘At one bound he was free’ is for fairy stories — what? And oh my God not Hemingway again. I’ve never said that I thought Williams should have Stoner stand tall like a real man next to those ancient pillars and so on. I do expect Stoner not to be treated unilaterally as heroic by the narrator, while all of the surrounding characters who cause him dismay are portrayed unilaterally as bad guys. This has been my position throughout the discussion. A realistic novel would acknowledge more directly the less heroic motives for his actions, and especially of his inactions, as well as their adverse consequences for people other than his own tragic self. No change in the events is necessary, just more subtlety and nuance in character development. As you say, he “seems” a tragic hero, and I agree that this is the obvious reading because it is so blatantly what the narrator wants us to see. Can we not have the narrator scrape away at this smooth surface a bit more?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  14. Here’s something interesting from an interview with John Williams:
    http://www.planetbookgroupie.com/stonerjohnwilliams.htm
    Stoner:
    “There was a teacher I knew just briefly who flunked me at the University of Missouri, not in a course but a kind of pre-examination for the doctorate in Middle English, or Anglo-Saxon, something like that, I’ve forgotten. He had an oddish wife whom I met only once and the rumors were that he had had a long feud with a fairly well-known scholar who was slightly crippled. By that time I was fairly involved in the teaching profession and began to think about `what does it mean to be a teacher.’ It began like that, so it has nothing to do really with that teacher, but I started to realize that although that man may not have been one of the great teachers of all time he had dedicated himself to something that I thought was extremely important and it didn’t matter whether he was a `success’ or whatever, and I found some kind of heroism involved there, and that’s where it began.”

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 February 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  15. “His dissertation topic had been ‘The Influence of the Classical Tradition upon the Medieval Lyric.'”

    Maybe it’s necessary to read this book in classical terms, not as a lyric but as an epic. Stoner need have no psychological insights about his own motives, no self-doubt about his course of action. He embodies an ideal, perfectly. The narrator’s job is to tell us the legend of this heroic figure in a way that maximizes our awareness of and admiration for the ideal. Subtlety, nuance, tragic flaws, to be or not to be? Maybe we would need to see these same events from Katherine Driscoll’s Shakespearean point of view

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  16. Thanks for the link to the interview — he doesn’t seem much like Stoner, does he? I’m intrigued enough now to read Butcher’s Crossing, his “Western.”

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 3:28 pm

  17. He could be Walker though flunking the Anglo-Saxon.

    I enjoyed Butcher’s Crossing too. If you ever wanted to go after buffalo on an industrial scale he tells how to do it. It’s all there.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 February 2012 @ 5:18 pm

  18. I was interested in Williams’ observations about running a creative writing program:

    “You can tell a student everything you know yourself about writing in 45 minutes. The most valuable thing of a writing course is that students get a sense of the audience. When a student writes a story it is read by every member of the class, and in a way I think of that as their first publication. When they give me a story I figure it’s published — it’s published because others will read it. Getting a sense of audience is valuable — not just to learn what they want, but to see if they understand what you’re trying to say.”

    “I never allow a student in a writing class to read his own stuff aloud. I either mimeograph it, or at times I myself read it aloud. There’s a great pedagogical thing for a student to actually hear what he has written because if you read what you’ve written yourself you fill in certain kinds of gaps, but if you hear it read aloud you become aware of the gaps. The ideal way of doing a writing class for decent students is not to say a damn thing about their work, just read it aloud, almost with no comment.”

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2012 @ 6:11 pm

  19. I read about half of Butcher’s Crossing before abandoning it — kind of like that perpetually grinning skinner wanted to do when the leader of the expedition couldn’t find water out on the high dry Colorado prairie. I skipped ahead: the skinner was right — they shouldn’t have bothered. Williams killed him off in a flood though, maybe to keep him from gloating when they got back to Kansas. The skinner probably perpetrated some act of treachery during a crisis that I skipped over, so maybe he needed to be punished for that too. I hoped that at the end Williams would, as he did for skinning and gutting a buffalo, provide a detailed step-by-step procedure for bedding a whore, but evidently he felt that his readers would already be familiar with that particular operation.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2012 @ 8:42 am

  20. Stoner’s wife was from St. Louis; each of Ernest Hemingway’s first three wives was from St. Louis, the second, Pauline Pfeiffer, having attended the University of Missouri while the fictional Stoner would have been teaching there.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2012 @ 10:50 am

  21. If only the buffalo hunter had returned with their skins when they should have all would have been well. The little note about how buffalo skins are so hard to cure and remain whiffy I liked. Take that thing off and leave it outside.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 11 March 2012 @ 7:00 am

  22. Jonathan Franzen too hails from St. Louis.

    I didn’t get to the part in Butcher’s Crossing (apt title btw) where the hunting party kept up at it so long that they got snowed in. Was it greed that kept them there? Bloodlust? Based on the development of the story I would expect it to have been their benumbed efficient thoroughness, the transformation of men into machines. Williams’ descriptions were workmanlike in this regard, as if writing an instructional manual — “he tells how to do it,” as you observed in an earlier comment.

    It’s amazing that those stinky buffalo robes would have been so popular as to have provoked the slaughter of tens of millions of the beasts over about a twenty-year interval. I don’t know this history very well, but certainly clearing out the wild bison would have made it a lot easier for the cattle ranchers to make even bigger money long-term than the hunters did. There are still some small herds in Colorado: though they can’t really be domesticated they can be penned in.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 March 2012 @ 9:12 am

  23. I didn’t read any of this discussion when you started it, but it’s interesting, more from the kinds of characters and places it brings up than for the author. I wouldn’t read anything by him, not even a link. He sounds artificial in a determinedly non-entertaining way. But the Edith reminds me of something I’ve been thinking of recently, something I may or may not do a post on and call it ‘The Common Scold’. The ones I’m thinking about are mostly women, and one thing that has happened to me after the printing of IDNYC is that I’ve officially gotten rid of all of them in my life who primarily have that as their ‘bottom line’. The most important were the Texas piano teacher who is never mentioned, but without whom I’d have never gotten to New York, and who may or may not have been fucking her own mentally ill son even before they left. Someone referred to her ‘Jocasta-mothering’. She doesn’t even know it, and is one I singled out for not even sending a flyer, although I finally told the truth about her on that early Ivan David thread (he was the stud pianist who’d been one of her teen bf’s). The other one, more important to deal with officially, as it were, was the one I call ‘Joanne Harrison’ in the book, and is a dyed-in-the-wool British SCOLD. The term is still not universally understood in the U.S., and may be why that it comes up only when I really am through with someone, as the deliverance itself. In her case, I emailed her husband, a much more successful Columbia professor, because I actually thought he’d be amused. He forwarded it to his wife (on whom he cheated for many years–can’t imagine why, but good for him–and finally did marry an Italian woman who could definitely cater to his needs better), which I didn’t really foresee. She then thought she could do a ‘big pounce’ by emailing me and apologizing yet again for atrocious practices she did in Pittsburgh in 2002 in a concert she ‘arranged’ for me, but in which she was primarily interested in scolding me. After I got back, she was so deluded that when I called her about leaving a pair of pants in her son’s closet, she actually said “Oh, Patrick, you had a wonderful time and you want to come back!” I said “Oh yes, Ann, thanks so much, I did have a wonderful time. But for now, could you look in N.’s closet and see if I left a pair of grey suit-pants there?” She was freaked, and to show me just how expensive it was to mail them ($3), she bought a $3 stamp instead of the strip at the post office. I never thanked her for this, but I DO appreciate her husband for telling her she was guilty of ‘old Scottish habits’. I even included that in my letter to him, which is probably why he wickedly sent it to her. Worse, she PROVED the ‘old Scottish habits’ by thinking she could still ‘enjoy the piano and the great works written for it’, while pretending that IDNYC was better than the ‘cine-musique’ books, but refusing to buy it. I finally wrote her back that, more or less, either buy the fucking book or fuck off. I didn’t actually say anything like that, but she got the message, and can live barrenly forever–without makeup!
    It paid off, as you would have seen. Either the SCOLDS have been sent off or, as in more flexible cases (one of my sisters has also been a notorious scold), they surprisingly stopped it entirely as times went by (this never happened in any other cases though, ‘Janet’ will remain a scold as well until death–Cioran so right about ‘impossible dreams’ lasting until the end.) There are a few male scolds too, of course, and they’ve suffered the same fate, at least vis-a-vis me.

    I was also interested in the frequent mentiion of St. Louis, which is something of a unique town. It’s a little more sybaritic than Chicago or some of the other Midwestern cities, but it’s not a center of hedonistic presence like New Orleans. I’ve only seen it from the air, and definitely wanted to see that famous arch, which I thought quite beautiful. Noel Craig, the chorus-boy suicide, liked it too. That was his hometown, and he was obviously of an entirely different bent from anyone cited here, although Franzen can be a ‘pure brat’ very often, and seems by now to be trying to correct this image, rightly assumed by many. Noel said that St. Louis used to have a very festive social scene to it, a unique flavour that is not unlike even the superficialities of the old Judy Garland movie ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’, and his mother was definitely of the sort of fashion-plate aging provincial-sociallte, with a total focus on clothes and interior decoration, which her son directly inherited.

    The one thing that most interests me about St. Louis in terms of authors is that is the birthplace of Tennessee Williams. Although I hadn’t know about Hemingway’s first wives being from there, that’s interesting, and may mean something since it’s that many. Do you think it does? Nobody could be more different than Tennessee Williams (interesting we have these two writers from St. Louis named Williams –you did say this one taught there, no, rather Stoner the fictional one, did. In any case, we never have Williams as a ‘midwestern writer’, but as a Southern writer, the playwright that is…) I just looked at his wiki, won the Nat’l Book Award for ‘Augustus’, but that might interest me. Won it the year before Gravity’s Rainbow, it looks like.

    I suppose the ultimate freeing of scolds that IDNYC coincided with was Joan Didion, who is in person much too warm to be a ‘true scold’, but has recently been emphasizing that part of her nature (which had usually been used to good purpose especially in her political writing, and calling attention to the ‘political class’ to people who otherwise wouldn’t have thought of it so explicitly; that could end up being her most important contribution, because she was talking about it very specifically and with percentages of voters and non-voters, long before the conspiracy-theorists got on board with the elites, and even a little more explicitly in non-fiction than Pynchon or DeLillo were, who talk about it, but don’t nag enough (even she once admitted, in better times, that ‘I’m a nag, and will probably keep on doing it’.)

    But thanks for the thread, John and Michael. I might take a look at Augustus, but not these books here. I know what John means by the narrator’s strangeness in making non-heroic actions seem heroic, though. They weren’t, from what I can gather hearing about it second-hand. This kind of bitch has to be slapped the shit out of.

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    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 11 March 2012 @ 11:44 am

  24. Was wrong that that was T. Williams’s birthplace, but he was there as a child and for some teen years, I think. His father had been notoriously difficult, but later said, when the film of ‘Baby Doll’ came out, that he thought it a ‘fine film’. One of those ‘tough task-master fathers’, although also a hard drinker. So Tennessee was, in fact, born in Columbus, Mississippi, later educated in Columbia, Missouri. Too much synchronicity.

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    Comment by illegal dances of new york city — 11 March 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  25. Mark Twain was from Hannibal MO but spent considerable time in St. Louis. “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn” — Ernest Hemingway.

    The only time I ever saw a “whites only” sign was somewhere in Missouri, posted on the front door of a truck stop off old Route 66. I was maybe twelve years old, taking a road trip with my grandfather from Illinois to Colorado the year after my grandmother died.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 March 2012 @ 12:51 pm

  26. Two more St. Louis writers I just remembered: T.S. Eliot and William S. Burroughs.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 June 2012 @ 11:15 am

  27. The high doh and the low doh of the Mid-Western voice.

    Like

    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 15 June 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  28. “doh”?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 June 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  29. The Tonic So-fa goes doh rah mi fah soh lah ti doh/
    If you’re on high doh all the time you’re excitable.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonic_sol-fa
    Not Homer doh or is it d-oh

    Like

    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 15 June 2012 @ 5:47 pm


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