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February 23, 2004: DEEP THOUGHTS (sort of) - and an odd questionnaire

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Terry Teachout lives in Manhattan.  He's the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and the music critic of Commentary - and you find the most interesting things on his site About Last Night - like this:

The source is an essay called "Morality and Literature," first published in Cahiers du Sud (January 1944).  However, the following quotation, tracked down by one intrepid reader, seems to vindicate my memory without contradicting the above.  Here Weil claims that the greatest literature is that which manages to make good interesting, and thus comes closest to a particular kind of realism:

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring.  Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.  Therefore 'imaginative literature' is either boring or immoral (or a mixture of both).  It only escapes from this alternative if in some way it passes over to the side of reality through the power of art - and only geniuses can do that. 

This can be found in an essay called "Evil," reprinted in The Simone Weil Reader and Gravity and Grace.  

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring?

I'd like examples to prove this.  I once spent an afternoon at the Pentagon chatting with people in the office of one of the assistant secretaries of defense, and met Frank Carlucci.  That may be a good example.  Now?  A day in the White House, perhaps?


Then I came across these questions which I found puzzling....


(1) What book have you owned longest - the actual copy, I mean?

(2) If you could wish a famous painting out of existence, what would it be?

(3) If you had to live in a film, what would it be?

(4) If you had to live in a song, what would it be?

(5) What's the saddest work of art you know?  And does experiencing it make you similarly sad?


How to answer these?

(1) A translation of Camus l'Étranger from back when I was in early high school, or Alan Watt's The Way of Zen - both handed me by my crazy uncle.  I think he must have meant me harm.  But I see I still have Brooks' and Warren's Understanding Poetry from those high school days (sort of in tatters now) - and that's a book which led me to fall in with the "new criticism" which led to semiotics and deconstructionist ideas and other evils. 

(2) Keep every one of the Monet haystacks, I suppose.  Oh hell, keep them all, every famous painting ever done.  Even the dogs playing poker and Elvis on black velvet.

(3) Which film?  Not Alphaville or Fast Times at Ridgemont High either.  If I lived in a film The Music Man wouldn't do - although listing to the Buffalo Bills (the barbershop singers, not the football guys) do "Lida Rose" always makes me feel good.  I guess I'd settle for An American in Paris, or maybe Casablanca - where I'd be one of the guys in the white tuxes in the band, I suppose. 

(4) How can one live in a song?  Would it be the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations or something else?  I always got a kick out the chord changes in Dizzy Gillespie's A Night in Tunisia and could play it for hours.  The weepy old torch song Long Ago and Far Away might do.  But I'll settle for Charles Trenets La Mer - which always makes me smile. 

(5) The saddest work of art I know?  Pick any of the surreal stories by Donald Barthelme - "The best way to live is by not knowing what will happen to you at the end of the day...."  But there is that e-minor prelude of Chopin - which I used to actually be able to play.  Do such things make you similarly sad?  Not really.  Just thoughtful, or something like it. 

Your turn for these questions.