post number 95

(This is an especially long entry, more like two in one, for no additional charge. I've called it "post number 95" partly because I couldn't think of anything better, and partly because 95 is a lot of posts, or at least it seems like a lot to me.)

Sometimes, the DVD deliveries from Netflix come at a very appropriate time. For example, on the day Robert Altman's death was announced, "Quintet" (an Altman movie I've never seen) arrived.

(I am not implying, and you should not infer, any suggestion that Netflix has supernatural powers. Things happen. As Nero Wolfe says, in a world which operates largely at random, coincidences are to be expected. Or, to quote Dr. Dudley Eigenvalue, D.D.S., "Cavities in the teeth occur for good reason. But even if there are several per tooth, there's no conscious organization there against the life of the pulp, no conspiracy. Yet we have men like Stencil, who must go about grouping the world's random caries into cabals.")

A few days after that, I received the DVD of "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man." That was good timing, since I first discovered Leonard Cohen from the soundtrack of Altman's film McCabe & Mrs. Miller (as I've said before, possibly my favorite film). The "I'm Your Man" DVD is uneven, some of the performers are wonderful (Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Perla Batalla & Julie Christensen, and Cohen himself). Others are adequate but not exceptional. I forget who sings "Famous Blue Raincoat," but I kept wishing it was Tori Amos instead (if you haven't heard her version, get it).

But overall it is worth seeing, and, as I said, I was in a mood for it. Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, who are Cohen's backup singers, do a version of "Anthem" which is as good as anything I could imagine.

There are also interviews, and the ones with Cohen are interesting (the others are mostly just talking about how great he is, which I know already). I'm not very knowledgeable about Zen Buddhism, but his beliefs seem similar to those of David O. Russell, the writer and director of "I Heart Huckabees" (highly recommended, by the way), including the relationship between humor and truth.

"Tower of Song" contains the wonderful couplet:

I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet.

Which is funny and sad and true, especially in the context of the song.

Right now, these lines also appeal to me particularly:

Now you can say that I've grown bitter,
but of this you may be sure.
The rich have got their channels
in the bedrooms of the poor.
And there's a mighty judgment coming,
but I may be wrong.
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the tower of song.

And this, from "Anthem," which got a huge hand at the concert:

Can't run no more,
With the lawless crowd,
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud,
But they've summoned up
A thundercloud,
And they're going to hear from me.

Some Particular Words

I am, as regular readers have already deduced, a big fan of the Nero Wolfe novels (and stories, though the novels are mostly better), and there are some rules of grammar which I absorbed from reading and re-reading those mysteries, because Wolfe insisted on them (he once sat in the front room and fed a dictionary into the fireplace, page by page, because it said that "imply" and "infer" could be used interchangeably).

So, that's one rule I absorbed, that "imply" is something done by the writer and "infer" is something done by the reader, not at all the same thing. Dave Sim is obviously also a fan of this rule, it was referred to in Cerebus a couple of times. Going by memory, the first time was when Astoria was grooming Cerebus to be Prime Minister, and she corrects his use of "infer" as a way to remind him that he's still a barbarian, only capable of succeeding in politics with her help. Later (possibly with Jaka, but I can't remember for sure), he corrects someone else about the same thing, showing that he may be a barbarian, but he's learning.

Another of Wolfe's rules was that "contact" is not a verb. This is referred to in the TV series from a few years ago, where you hear Wolfe in the background of a scene, yelling into the phone, "No, I don't want to 'contact' him, you ignoramus. "Contact' is not a verb!"

I use "contact" as a verb from time to time, especially, at work, but I always feel a little bad about it.

Another of Wolfe's rules was that "presently" means "in the near future," not "at present." I follow this one very strictly, since (unlike the other rules) carelessness about this can lead to confusion about what you mean.

The most striking use of "presently" to mean "at present" was on the cover of Esquire magazine, quite a few years ago. Truman Capote's first new fiction in years, a short story called "Mohave," appeared in that issue, and it was such an event for there to be a new story by him that the story started on the cover of the magazine, in very large type, and then continued on the inside.

The beginning of the story, the part on the front cover in large type, began with this sentence: "At 5 p.m. that winter afternoon she had an appointment with Dr. Bentsen, formerly her psychoanalyst and presently her lover."

It bothered me, since, as I said, "presently" is supposed to mean "in the near future." Apparently I was not the only one, since when the story was reprinted (first in the "Music for Chameleons" collection, and then later in "Answered Prayers"), the word "presently" was replaced with "currently."

By the way, the Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Wolfe about "contact" and "imply" and "infer," agreeing about how they are (mis)used, but stating that "careful writers" will stick with the strict definitions. They say that the strict meaning of "presently" to mean "in the near future" is probably unsustainable at this point, since so many people have used and continue to use it incorrectly. They say that, for this reason, the word should be avoided, since it can lead to confusion. I apparently agree, because I just checked and I have not used the word in any of the novels.

By the way, I am enjoying "Against the Day" so far (I'm on page 200). I'm not enthralled (so far), but definitely entertained. Plus I've found one definite typo (so far), on page 63.

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