When Urania was young/ All thought her heavenly/ With age her eyes grow larger/ But her form unmaidenly

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Starts like Rock, but It's Me

When I was sitting in the box at the Kennedy Center, glum from a split of Korbel champagne, listening to the bright young apprentice conductors do, in turn, Brahms, Debussy, Barber, and Tchaikovsky, I thought how odd the brackets around "classical" music are. The gap between the size of its audience compared to popular music is huge - and despite the best efforts of Leonard Bernstein working from one direction and classically-trained Rock Progressos on the other - these are not two voices in the same conversation. And then subtract out what I think may be the majority of the audience - those whose tastes begin with Vivaldi and end with, oh, maybe Mahler, along with a few outliers like the Early Music Movement, some Stravinsky and other tonic Russians like Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, Camina Burana, a few works that have made it into film, like Barber's Adagio for Strings. Maybe there's more - literate people know who John Cage is, and Philip Glass. But still.

But it's not dead - many composers work within the tradition, the conversation, even now. Like contemporary poetry in America, its economics lie almost solely within a framework of foundations and universities, and in the hearts of a few amateurs like my friend Steven, who decamped to Berlin permanently because he could hear something new every day. And, of course, if you need a full orchestra and and airplane motor before your marks on the paper becomes sound - well, this is fascinating to me. The gap in theater - something requiring similar resources - between successful theater like Cats and Les Miserables on one hand, and Stoppard and Shepard is nothing like the gap between Madonna and Glass. But theater itself is no longer a mass art, beyond school Christmas pageants.

There something important here, apart from the usual blah-blah about state support of the arts, but I'm not there yet. Back later on this topic.


Friday, June 25, 2004

Rock Suggests

A fully successful wardrobe choice should always direct the viewers' attention - and concommitant compliments - to the wearer rather than the garment.

"What a slutty dress!"

"What a slut!"

Monday, June 21, 2004

For My Single Friends

If one shouldn't get entangled with someone more screwed-up than oneself, then should one be as screwed up as possible to maximize the possible delightful and dramatic encounters in one's life?

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Father's Day

Nothing like some kind of officially ordained theme day to provide a deadline for a post I had been considering for a couple of weeks.

Hmm, thinking about my last post, on Courtly Love. The Church alternately condemned and tried to commandeer the Courtly Love philosophy - it's idolatrous, of course, even leaving aside the inevitable painfully lame evocations of Greek/Roman love deities, the adored and all-commanding love object makes a fleshy sort of idol. So the clergy could either try to hit with a rolled up newspaper its best (meaning: richest and most likely to execute inconvenient priestlings) clients, or try to convince them that they really meant the Blessed Virgin Mary all along. So much easier to rhyme than Hortensia anyway.

So the Sacred and the Profane - all these hungers for More or Other or Metasomething of Transomething else seem related, and as the hunger sharpens, the differences seem even smaller - like one would eat any edible. So this is why my father believed in all the modern versions: ESP, the Loch Ness monster, flying saucers, Bigfoot. All of them. The world HAD to be wonderful; we had to be something other than alone together. And when he went to some seance when I was 17 he asked where I would go to college.

I guess it's a hunger I share, but with my more corrosively cynical and analytic, more conventionally educated mind. There's that other kind of mysticism, that looks at, oh, I don't know, a flower or a cow - or a child - and wonders at the wonder of it all. I don't have that. Joy, yes, great joy - but if the child isn't a changeling (and consider the flipside of wonder, the terror of THAT possibility), well, wonder's not in it. But maybe that these things aren't real is the only reason there's wonder. After the initial freebase moment of the First Contact - maybe sharing a smelly office restroom with Mr. Spock would take all the Otherness out of it.

And there's something about what my father didn't want - the reason why he supported George Wallace and other rightwingers, before disappearing for a while into an invisible libertarianism. There was a great "no" there to things as they were to go along with the "yes" to things that weren't. And the sense of loss, or betrayal, of things being less than they should have been, of being lied to.

So after talking about retirement for years, of fishing and traveling. Why did he give all his fishing equipment away the day he and and Mom moved to sad Mohave Valley, at the border of Arizona and Nevada and on the Colorado River. After being for so long the only one of us who was genuinely warm and loved people, why did he constantly turn down social (and fishing!) invitations? The three hours daily of listening to bitter, hypocritical dishonesty from Rush Limbaugh, well - that I knew. The $10,000 on a scheme I could tell was fraudulent from the first paragraph of the come-on letter? Yes, familiar too - we'd had a number of those missteps throughout all our years as a family - and superficial; it wasn't going to make a difference. And - heartbreakingly - the electronic emissions machine to cure cancer he got from somewhere so he could set up a clinic with his neighbor - that he ended up using on himself - and all of us helped him use - as he was dying from it. He knew what I thought about it and all the rest, as part of our core family morality - the morality that meant it took me a decade and hundreds of games before I finally beat him. He never let me. We don't. Because it wouldn't be real.

But I remember something else about imagination and my father. In the evenings when my sisters and I were very young, in the evenings we used to visit with Snakey - Dad's four fingers and thumb talking at us in the persona of a clever snake who lived in the heating vents of our Southern California tract home, who knew many things. So, did we believe it? I mean, that thing was pretty clearly a hand there and my father's attempt to keep his lips from moving was for the sake of honor - not effectiveness. But it didn't have that airy feeling of our own various make-believes. It was solid and a benevolent snake cruised the heating ducts of that house - I still can't picture one of the grills without picturing a pair of bright eyes peeking out.

Wonder if that's how my daughters felt that way about Spidey, the spider I made with my hand when they were young?

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Courtly Love

So if you're sort of clueless and read history, ideas that any sane individual would have thought long dead, you wonder - what's in there? Does it work? Huzzah for Flat Earth types, I guess. Shouldn't feel so bad since a bazillion people still believe that the Alpha and the Omega, the Eschatological Ground Meal of the Total Tortilla, put on a pair of badly made sandals and wandered around the Judean hills some 2000 years ago.

Jeez, I sure hope a long throat-clearing means a short post. Anyway, Courtly Love, (conflating all sorts of stuff below, but the inaccuracies are useful) a term from the late Middle Ages, referring to a set of principles for Romance among the noble classes. Most common elements: the woman is elevated far above the man, and at the very least begins with a stance anywhere from cruel and disdainful to simply unwilling; this acts as a spur for the man to be nobler, more virtuous, more accomplished in all things and utterly devoted, so as to better deserve his lover; there is some seemingly insuperable obstacle (other than the man's unworthiness) - most commonly the woman is married and virtuous.

Of course, like the contrary spirit of Carnival, this only works because Courtly Love reverses the real power relationships between the sexes in the Middle Ages, anomalies like Eleanor of Aquitaine's court notwithstanding.

So why am I talking about it? C'mon - this model doesn't have ANY attractions for you, gender role not specified? Oh, maybe not - maybe it's me that's nuts, or, more accurately, I was when I was younger, listening to a lot of Machaut and Dufay, and ready to be devoted. Serially devoted, I think. Besides, there is that element of self-improving calisthenics - using the desired as some sort of all-in-one exercise machine to buff up all your metaphorical muscles, ready to cough up tortured love poetry and be champagne-witty and gallant in conversation in turn. Something here about all the world loves (this kind of) a lover.

Funny, though, my most intense experience of the three elements was after a demise of a relationship, during which the entirely absent woman became a guiding spirit for a couple of years, quite unaware. Genuine lack of interest; earnest and completely unobserved self-improvement; utterly without hope of it ever being influential.

But the sheer ironic perfection of that modern version of Courtly Love isn't why I drifted away. It ultimately was narcissistic as mirrors on a bedroom ceiling, and if such a thing did become consummated, and leaving aside what the chapter is AFTER that, well, even at the moment, the desideratum, all I can think of is two people, each alone with his or her own ecstasies.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


On the bright side, this time it really is a chardonnay.


1) It is Australian.
2) There is only about a glass and half left - say two inches.
3) I am drinking it straight from the bottle (Rock recommends I end that statement
with a hearty "Me mateys!")

Friday, June 11, 2004

Cuisine Art

Salad: hearts of palm, artichoke bottoms, kalamata olives (nicoise would be even better), feta cheese: why doesn't anyone serve this? Bliss. Oh, hold it...

...back. With pinot gririo. K. 543 on the speakers. No crusty bread, drat - next time.

True civilization is not attainable in the workplace. Or at least not MY workplace.

Side note: giving Federal employees the day off to observe the death of Ronald Reagan did not promote a mournful attitude.

Copyright: Against Self-Righteousness

It's so cute the way many writers get all fuschia-faced over the subject of copyright, over their property, their God-given Natural Law right to the exclusive use of their ideas, their effort, their talent. I mean, your writing is your property, you own it, just as your house is your property and your favorite blouse and your car and your cellphone and childhood stuffed animal and all the rest.

Right stick, wrong end. Copyright is an interesting example of the evolution of a very practical license into a right. Anyone here mind if we wuote the U.S. Constitution on the subject of Congressional power to issue patents and copyright?:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries

Guys - that's where our Sacred Right originates - even in terms of the U.S. Constitution, which is fairly generous in assuming the independent basis of many rights. The Government will grant and protect temporarily an exclusive license to authors and inventors get to use their stuff exclusively only an an incentive to create and discover, not because there is any "natural" right to an abstraction like the way a given set of words is arranged. Of course now that there are photographic and recording devices, in what Benjamin called the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the same thing applies to the plastic and musical arts.

Okay, wrong end. Why the right stick? Well, consider the very interesting evolution (if I have this right) of a forthright affirmation of the inalienable rights of "life, liberty, and property" into the Declaration of Independence's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Consider also that one of the responses to Tom Paine's historical analysis in Common Sense of the rise of the actual lines claiming the British throne and the "divine right" to rule noted in a melancholy fashion, that if we were to think like that, the foundations of property may equally come into question.

Exactly. "Property of" is not some sort of apriori condition - it's a government patent - an affirmation of call and a promise to protect, for the practical advancement of society. It's simply been around for so much longer than intellectual property rights that property "rights" seem natural, beyond question, fundamental, and occasion great fury and self-righteousness when violated - as intellectual property begins to do for people who have it. So, why not permit this evolution? Becuase we then lose sight of what the authority, established less thna 250 years ago was meant to do. Well, also, I have to admit to an allergy to hysterical copyright rhetoric too.

Example: the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act can be be called an act of theft from the community in one case; and a lie in another. It extends the copyrights of works created decades ago - almost exclusively to benefit corporate-owned intellectual "property", and, above all on behalf of Disney. Read the line from the Constitution again - you cannot encourage the production of a piece of intellectual property by retroactively extending the term of protection. The Supreme Court decided this aspect wasn't actually unconstitutional. While I appreciate the judicial restraint in refusing to invalidate an properly passed law for which you can provide at least some kind of argument (e.g. that allowing companies with intellectual property to retain more of the potential profit from works with expiring copyrights makes more capital available for subsequent productions), the whole legislative history makes it clear that this was simply the transfer of public "rights" into private hands at the cost of a few lobbyist fees and campaign contributions.

And the lie? That even for work not created at the time of the bill - that anyone creates work for the monetary profit it may bring to their heirs 49 years after their death. Even the roughly immortal corporations (including reverse mitosis in the difinition and the purchase of intellectual copyright from the creditors of the bankrupt) don't have a profit horizon that extends nearly that far into the future. In fact, I'd argue that this consequence of the act was just an inadvertant side-effect of trying to secure things the corporations want to hold on to NOW; they don't know how to value whatever their creating now in terms of future worth. It's just a lie to say the extension act promotes the progress of the arts, the constitutional reason this license exists.

Heirs? Hey, look at Stephen Joyce, current heir to the estate of James Joyce - basically a parasitic, obstructionist asshole who is keeping work form being created by threatening lawsuits anytime someone wants to DO something with some of the central works of the 20th Century. Do you think Ulysses was written for him, or that new Ulysses are being created by the incentive to pass money and control down two generations? I can just imagine the heirs of Lorris suing Meung (or perhaps challeging him to a conbat d'honneur) for daring to extend The Romance of the Rose.

Okay, enough here. Think I'll talk about getting credit in the next entry, unless my dearly beloved commenters - named and anonymous - tell me Jesus Christ, move on already.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Ah, dear and sadly wrong friends

Anonymous commenting is not only permitted, but positively lusted after.

Monday, June 07, 2004

In Which Rock Makes His First Appearance

Shameful to have missed a day on this chronicle, so soon after it was begun and on a weekend day at that. Perhpas it occurred to someone that I've run out of things upon which I may carry on at uninteresting length (i.e. four figure blog entries). Nope - I fell asleep, under the Italian light fixture the previous owners installed over their martial bed, with the three hand-blown and disturbingly vulvar light shields. A fertility thing, no doubt. Hmm, wish there were another place to put the bed.

I had a toddler drowsy then asleep on my chest (conceived without strega photonic assistance, I might add), rescued from what I think must have been a nightmare, with frantic and still asleep yells. I just could not move, despite not having showered that night, or that day, or the previous night (at this point mothers with young children or good memeories can start waving their hands in recognition). I was, as Rock deRien might say if he were feebly attempting to be one of a people that went away a couple of decades ago: "Oh my, grody!" Not whiffy, mind you, because my body is largely hairless and my pheromones are more like pherosighs - very subtle - and I really don't smell much like anything at all. I hear in Africa they call overly scrubbed white guys "dead men" because the lack the health odor of the living, not unlike the newly dead. And, unlike Rock, I don't feel the crying need to drip any foo-foo on my clavicle with my little fingertips.

But - I had just spent four hours out the yard; I was in greenstained tube socks and green-kneed blue jeans, and I ewas certainly covered with finely minced cicada parts mixed in with the many wisps of mowed grass. Anyway, baby and I slept way until morning, although since no one crept into the bedchamber in bare feet and bad intentions, I'm beginning to think Rock was right. Grody. Grody, indeed.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum

Not that I've ever believed that, but I did promise no more than one political post a week and would in fact have some notes bonum et dulce et mea culpa. Well, IHO, I will repeat my all-time favorite joke from that era.

Q: Why did Menachem Begin order the Sabra/Shatilla massacres?
A: He wanted to impress Jodie Foster.

These things lose most of their zing over time. Still makes me smile, though, although that may be just the weakened echo from when I first heard it, in the fourth booth at the Ratskellar, three beers and a coke on the table, and the joke was Susan's. That night she either slept with me or slept with Doug. Some things you remember and some things you just don't.

So, a note about wit. Not as fine as Peter Beagle's, perhaps, but still a fine exchange, Sabatini level:

Audry, leaning back, surveyed Sit Tristano through half-closed eyes. "Sir, I must say that for a mission of this importance I would have expected a person of somewhat more august wisdom and experience."

Sir Tristano smiled, "Sir, I admit that I am only three years older than King Aillas, who perhaps for this reason regards me in the light you mention. Still, if you are dissatisfied, I will withdraw instantly to Troicenet and there express your views to King Aillas. I am sure he can find a qualified emissary: sage, elderly, of your own generation..."

- Jack Vance The Green Pearl

Tristano's first line is fine, but, again, it's the final catalog that does it. The rhythm is important: "sage" [beat] "elderly" [beat] and the quick flurry of the real attack: "of your own generation."

Like most wit in books, the exchange is brittle and artificial, stage dialogue, mock formal - not meant to mimic normal speech at all. Even the sense is wrong: an emissary like Tristano would not go that far with a king already inclined to neutrality on his mission. It doesn't advance the plot; it is a tiny bit out of character; it's just fun. But what do I know? I smile at mass-murder jokes.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Using My Name in Vain

It's time to stop telling me that I should be thankful, that I owe my freedom to our brave boys in green. Or white. Or blue. The real lesson of Vietnam wasn't about winning hearts and minds, or fighting without popular support, or No Land War in Asia, it was this: we lost, we left, we were still free. Still? More free. When I turned draft age in 1976, my liberty wasn't taken away - I wasn't drafted, into servile rank-ridden involuntary servitude, the least democratic mass organization I can imagine this side of organized religion with its despicable clergy, even apart from what grows clearer as the Vietnam generation begins to assume power: the get-out-of-Vietnam-free cards granted to the least scrupulous of upper class youth.

So 1976: no draft, the FBI no longer felt it had to keep dissident youth organizations under close surveillance. Carter was elected - a smaller percentage of what few taxes were extracted from me went to the national security apparatus (and the Russians unaccountably failed to take advante of this); the deficit - another involuntary debt - began to decline. Whatever we lost in Vietnam, it wasn't a sliver of any freedom I cherished. Who defended my freedoms? Well, lawyers, reporters and opposing politicians had rid us of a leader clearly guilty of felonious obstruction of justice.
Not the boys.

As a complete sidenote: in 1976 the greatest literal threat to my freedom was the war -the war on drugs. But the same law that keeps my family safe from depraved murderers kept me out of jail - the law of averages, schooling fishes. The psychopaths only get a few hundred of us. And the State couldn't - didn't even want to - catch and lock up every felony drug offender in college.

And look, at least there was some kind of plausible excuse for Vietnam: we were facing a military power that looked like it could challenge us; a manifestly unfree, hostile, arguably expansionistic Soviet Union. We lost. And unless somebody wants to resurrect the rotted rump of the domino theory - that we fought long enough to save Thailand, and and and. Desperation time. So, my country continued to be free, and as we moved away from what war does to a country, we were more free. And in all the dozens of military actions, large and small, for more than half a century - the boys dying - but more often killing, weren't doing it for my freedom. So long and thanks for all the deterrence, though, cold war buddies.

And yes, it was Roosevelt who showed how to twist the notion of freedom out of recognition by collapsing issues of liberty with other matters in the Four Freedoms, just as conservatives offered up the epithet of "license" to describe liberties of which they did not approve. Why not? Why not argue for sanctity of power -- when it is yours.

And now - what are they for? To keep the Mexicans and Central Americans from crossing the border and sapping my will to cut my own grass? They're not doing that.

So, now. That's not my freedom there in Iraq. I'd say it wasn't even my freedom in Afghanistan, although I support the war there, as a matter of collective security. But even then: Bin Laden says that they organized 9/11 because of three U.S. acts: supporting Israel; maintaining sanctions on Iraq; having troops in Saudi Arabia. When I think about it - none of those things is for me, none of them is for my freedom, or any other American's freedom Yes, a terrorist organization that attacks the United States should be flattened, and any regime that provides it refuge overthrown. Of course.

But then - I look at those acts and think - this isn't about me converting to Islam, or the bars closing, or even Baptist churches closing or Wiccans being burned at the stake (hold it - I don't want to convert myself to Wahabi Islam by playing up things that really MIGHT be appealing.) It was about projecting economic, diplomatic, and especially military power far from my home - projecting it right onto the pointy little heads of some nonAmericans. And I'd feel freer if we weren't doing those things - so why am I getting wanded going to work everyday - why is Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House permanently closed to vehicular traffic? Why is are Americans being held without their (our) constituitonal rights, based on a dubious Supreme Court decision made, not surprisingly, during wartime - albeit an actual formal, declared war, with a pretty clear terminal point, Remember the warning about standing armies? It's not the direct oppression, or not always. It's the cost and the mindset.

Why is traveling an ordeal; why are private citizens directing torture in POW camps; why are my library records and a thousand other things government business, simply when the government - not a jury of my peers - says so? Why does Justice Scalia think the Fifth Amendment is mighty inconvenient sometimes. It's not Al Qaeda that cares whether I'm free or not, not now. And it's not the military fighting to keep me that way.

Maybe I don't have the bad conscience that others seem to have. I don't even need to get into the discussion of whether someone who joins for pay and benefits is a mercenary; whether someone who joins because he listens to people in power tell him it's a patriotic things to do is a lackey. Maybe those people who feel guilty about the sacrifices these working class people are making so that those in power can have even more say - maybe they'd like to say thank you. Maybe they'd like to show their gratitude by awarding this medal og good intentions. I am from the class that produces these soldiers. But all the pain and fear of military families; all the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers themselves - that's not for me. You're not much less likely to torture me than an Iraqi, if you are told to do so, because NONE of us are. But some of us don't put ourselves in a position to do what we're told. I don't owe you. That's not my freedom. Fuck you for saying it is - you self-promoting liars. I do not support your troops.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I remember going to a modern art show in DC years ago. Something thematic, probably a bit political. All of these fascinating shapes on the walls, the floor, hanging from the ceiling - one into which you could crawl; something you could touch or stroke. One whole room arrayed with thousands of identical toy-sized somethings. A new surprise around every corner.

And then I started to read the white paper rectangles, with the artists' names and the titles of the works. I had nothing against the artists, nothing I knew, so that part was fine.

But the titles - what these things were. The "ideas." They were just so...stupid, labored, trite and they blighted the previously wonderful objects with that triteness. Except the little toy shapes, each of which represented a Warsaw pact tank and the total was supposedly in line with the latest Western military estimates. I think it was meant to mock the seriousness of the threat by reducing all those huge clanky high explose hurling behemoths to tiny nothings, but my companion looked at the installation and said what I thought: "Jeez, the Russians sure have a shitload of tanks."

Visual artists are, for the most part, shallow, parroting thinkers and their virtues lie elsewhere. Ye novelists and poets,how do you think it is with you?

The observations, the insights, the suspended irony and all that - yes, great fun, occasionally enlightening, thought provoking. But what if you were judged by what your stuff is about, as I was forced to do about all that well-intentioned art by those excruciatingly well-intentioned titles? What you're tryin a say? I mean, think about those Russian greats, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (even before he repudiated his great work as, in my interpretation of "What is Art" as insufficiently stupid) - have to twist them a fair way around (or be a remarkably interesting anachronistic lunatic) to assent to what they was tryin a say. At least the positive aspects of their message - the great thing about ripping something is not only is the vocabulary of condemnation WAY more extensive than praise, but the law of averages and the Fall of Man, you're going to be right most of the time. Somehow I don't think, oh, Christian Slavophilism makes anybody's list anymore. Oh, Alexander S is still around?

Not too many novelists as sensible as Jane Austin, who simply says in several narrow but sharp ways: "Put up your hands. Back away from the Stupid Button of Self-Immolation. Slowly." Because I don't think she even bothers to talk to the real life analogues of selfish shits that also propel her plots.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I begin this just after Memorial Day weekend, my new hometown's Hometown Holidays, where the Gin Blossoms played amidst the buzzing of Brood X cicadas, to an appallingly slobby crowd largely doing other things. My daughters were excited on my behalf, "Dad! It's your band."

I do play their first CD, and have - or had, I'm not sure - a cassette of their second, the purchase of both marked me as a declared noncombatant in the never-ending rock wars, because the Gin Blossoms sounded like the last 25 years of music had never happened, and all quite without an ironic wink-and-a-nod. No wonder my fellow 40ish friends thought the CD sounded "Uh-huh. Pretty good!" But even at that I didn't think I'd see the Blossoms six years after "Until I Fall Away" as the opening act at a concert given by civic boosters in a city they didn't know from Poughkeepsie. I mean, in a world of band divorces when members actually had something to lose, staying together for small paydays, singing about alcoholism. And the last, sad, telling joke by the lead singer: "We're not the Gin Blossoms. We're a Gin Blossoms cover band."

On a roll, I rented - no, I bought - Ladyhawke on DVD for the family, and we watched it that night, reveling in cheddary cheesiness. Like the Gin Blossoms, not precisely bad, not empty, not worthless, not contemptible, not dull, not even overly worn and polished formula - and still carrying its own weight commercially (on DVD!). And with Rutger Hauer and eerie Michelle Pfeiffer and wee mugging Matthew Broderick as Andy Rooney, all three poised to grow out of that type of film, as Arnold Schwarzneggar left Conan behind. "Enough talk!"

I hit a day where I just didn't care about "good," either in the tribal (antitribal)/moral sense of the stance mah peepul assumed, or as some kind of abstract hierarchical aesthetics. But then I picked up (okay, yes, kind of a shopping weekend) an anniversary trade paperback of Peter Beagle's Last Unicorn, and read.

Look, Bright Young Things and utter dolts - this popular art versus high art, this genre versus literary, commercial versus artistic. the boiled egg's Big End vs. the Small - aside from all that, some stuff is just better. Platonically. God loves it more. Self-fulfilling artifact. Whatever. Charles Newman made the following point (quote may be off, from memory): "Nothing kills an emerging artistic movement more quickly that the unwillingness to distinguish what's good from what's second rate." That's true, if slower, in established genres - and when unwillingness becomes the principle that there is no difference beyond the commercial threshold - well, I ask the jury to consider the difference between malign neglect and out-and-out murder.

Read this (Second paragraph, what I general use for illustration to finesse the artificially compressed rhetorical strategies of an opening):

She did not look anything like a horned horse, as unicorns are often pictured, being smaller and cloven-hoofed, and possessing that oldest, wildest grace that horses have never had, that deer have only in a shy, thin imitation and goats in dancing mockery. Her neck was long and slender, making her head seem smaller than it was, and the mane that fell almost to the middle of her back was as soft as dandelion fluff and as fine as cirrus. She had pointed ears and thin legs, with feathers of white hair at the ankles; and the long horn above her eyes shone and shivered with its own seashell light even in the deepest midnight. She had killed dragons with it, and healed a king whose poisoned wound would not close, and knocked down ripe chestnuts for bear cubs.

Do you understand why it's good? Do you understand why this static, description is like a handful of pure, spring water on a steep mountain slope, compared to the tap-water Kool-Aid mixed in Tupperware of the typical fantasy brick? Read it again and feel the iambs and anapests, prose as song. Now can you stand a little old fashioned close analysis of a paragraph from children's book?

Beagle takes the overused, baldly symbolic unicorn, and starts with a stark denial of the most basic stock image: She did not look anything like a horned horse as unicorns are often pictured Already, a note of difference (compare J.K. Rowling's conventional use of the unicorn as a flat pathos object, stipulated as beautiful).

He continues with "cloven-hoofed" which DOES have classical roots, but instead of leaving it lie as a simple, dead fact, it is reinforced in the same sentence with a contrast to both deer and goats - "that oldest, wildest grace that horses have never had, that deer have only in a shy, thin imitation and goats in dancing mockery." And the words to describe the difference in grace - shy, thin for deer, mockery for goats - further jibes with the general aspects of those creatures, not just their "grace."

Okay, okay - look at the similes in the sentences that follow yourself. Fine, delicate, quick. I want to skip to the final sentence, a catalog of what the unicorn did with her horn. The first two are, respectively, obvious and conventional - the horn as a mighty weapon, and as a magic source of healing referencing to the Grail myth. But look again at the completely original third item: and knocked down ripe chestnuts for bear cubs. Note first the sudden drop from dragons and kings to animals, and the suggestion of the forest, and the wonderful combination of the to-be-formidable "bear" and disarming "cub." And then notice the wonderful character building on the unicorn in just the phrase, not saving the cubs, but simply giving them an out-of-reach treat and all this in summary, not scene, but alive because of the specificity: the nuts are chestnuts and they are ripe.

I unpacked all this density, but the reader (or the readee - begs to be read aloud!)
gleaning what they can, unhindered, from Beagle according to his talent, to each according to his or her awareness, skates over it without a pause. And the plot junkies are soon on their merry way, and there are a load of grown-up jokes and little acts of deconstruction throughout the book - but not ultimately sacrificing feeling. And, of course the bottom line for some is that Peter Beagle made a spitload of money from the book.

But is it any wonder that Ursula Le Guin gets quoted on the back cover - because this is Elfland; this is not Poughkeepsie. Damn it - listen to Le Guin - she's not only way smarter than you are, she's way smarter than most of the idiots to whom you do listen. Listen first, disagree later, listen again to make sure you didn't miss something.

In keeping with the blog title, circling back to me. I live in a city to which I returned, in defiance of REM's heartfelt plea not to come back to here. It is a Poughkeepsie, and that's where all my stories are set also. I don't have the purity of heart to write of Elfland (always, always unicorns and the other creatures are looking for the pure of heart), so my characters are just people and their magic is no more wondrous than a TV remote. And I don't have Peter Beagle's ear. But I know enough to revere them, pure heart and musician's ear. And I hope to learn something I can use.