TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY – THE HONOURABLE SCHOOL BOY – SMILEY’S PEOPLE

I read these three John La Carre′ novels in one volume, 950 pages. They are also known as the Karla novels. Tinker, Tailor and Smiley’s People were well represented in their BBC productions, 1979 and 1982. The novels give the remaining 10-15 percent of each story. I recommend reading each.

The Honourable School Boy is the middle volume of the trilogy, and it tells what happened to British Intelligence after Tinker, Tailor: George Smiley’s stewardship of the Circus plus a successful mission. I like George Smiley; I liked reading it. There is spy craft on each page – plotting, method and engaging. They suggest espionage as it is, not the hyped swirl Hollywood crap – James Bond to gadget-thriller of the month from one studio or another. 

In the end of Smiley’s People there is character development (realization), mostly by the reader. George Smiley appreciates his marriage to the always unfaithful Ann has been ruinous to him personally and professionally. Because of her others have taken advantage of him. This realization nags him through the novel and arrives in his consciousness late. Any human being would wonder about such a marriage, and how it was fitting into life or changing it. George Smiley is sentimental and weak, and weakness is an admission most of us do not like to make, especially at the end of a career, near the end of life.

The writing in these three novels is laced with Britishisms that keep the reader going: “barking mad,” “authority without responsibility.” There are others, but I cannot forget a paraphrase of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s statement about J. Eager Hoover: I’d rather have him in my tent pissing out, than outside pissing in. 

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Schrunk & White, Elements of Style

In the late 1940s EB White wrote about Will Schrunk, his professor at Cornell. White was asked by the publisher of Schrunk’s book to revise it for a new edition. Hence, Schrunk & White, Elements of Style

In a 1957 letter and in White’s other essays and stories, it is obvious he departs repeatedly from Schrunk’s rules. The exception is when a rule is followed. It demonstrates that most of Schrunk & White came from Schrunk, not White. It reveals why White’s essays, letters and reports are second-rate, and cannot be read for knowledge, insight or inspiration. It explains why White’s criticism is not well written.

It also explains why White was a sell-out: Witness rambling rumination on Henry Thoreau, Walden, and White’s excuses for flaws: “To reject the book because of the immaturity of the author and the bugs in the logic is to throw away a bottle of good wine because it contains bits of cork.” A Slight Sound at Evening, Summer, 1954.

Take a specific problem first, coming from White’s pen and limited imagination. He refers to Walden being inmature which can mean anything and having bugs in its logic. Once a book is launched, it is usually unchanged. Walden has be immature and buggy since 1854. Thoreau’s only salvation is the residency in New England. If he had been from Tennessee or Nebraska, the book would be appropriately forgotten. Of course White is from New England and always supports the homeboy.

Next, if a good wine has cork in it, it can be filtered, and the cork removed. But no one can filter immediately bugs from wine. It is best not to drink the bottle with the cork in it, although in New England the natives may swill anything and swallow. Hence, White’s simile is wrong, and it’s wrong in real life. Law books report cases when critters like bugs get inside bottles and containers. The expert advice is, don’t consume them.

The greater problem is when White extols immaturity and bugs in logic. How much of that ineptness must a reader endure? If a human being reads poor writing and decides to write, then the consequent output will be poor quality. Human beings only learn if they read, comprehend and understand good writing – saying something in five words rather than 20. Knowing that five words can state the full thought [concept, idea] makes the writer more adept – five words makes the writing easier and more pleasant to read.

But White cherishes homeboy, Henry David, massively imperfect, boring and probably using drugs while dwelling in his pond shack, polluting the pure waters and uttering Wow, all the time. Thoreau wrote about simple, mundane events and impressions, things any high schooler might believe significant. We don’t keep those immature writings full of bugs around – even the students themselves toss them. And we don’t put those writers on postage stamps.  Drugs are a possibility explaining why Thoreau was immature and infested, but drugs are not an excuse to read him. It remains mystifying why White defers to Thoreau and likes him (except EB White also paid no attention to the rules in Elements of Style). 

Producing Art

In volume 2 of the Paris Review Interviews is a piece with James Baldwin. 

The last question: “How does it strike you that in many circles James Baldwin is known as a prophetic writer?”

Answer: “I don’t try to be prophetic, as I don’t sit down to write literature. It is simply this: a writer has to take all the risks of putting down what he sees. No one can tell him about that. No one can control that reality. It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso was supposed to have said to Gertrude Stein while he was painting her portrait. Gertrude said, ‘I don’t look like that.’ And Picasso replied, ‘You will.’ And he was right.

STERLING TO NOTHINGNESS

Marshall’s Generalized Iceberg Theorum: Seven-eights of everything can’t be seen. Witness Donald Sterling, LA Clippers owner.

He has voiced his views, but he does not understand how Free Speech works. Nobody has to agree with him; everyone can disagree and object. And no one has to listen to him ever again.

It is not virtuous; it is not a quality; it is not educational; it is not intellectual; it is not a characteristic of human beings. Sterling has forsaken entering the public debate by claiming his status: He is rich. And he has adopted a state of mind created by society: he is greedy.

Sterling believed the economics of dollars gave him power, and he could mouth off about anything.The economics of dollars allowed him to have a mistress including the personal assistant and keep his relationship with his wife confined to business, so says the LA Times.

Allowing economics to rule one’s life is very Marxist. Sterlings peers in the world are Russian Oligarchs and Vladmir Putin. Money and power accompanying it bear no love, no friendship, no loyalty, no compassion, no understanding, no intellect and no enlightenment. It is a solely Marxist occupation and also a Communist one to believe that money makes the world go round, and Donald Sterling’s mantra, greed is the supreme achievement.

Other men have piled dollars upon dollars but some have left benefits to the American people – some people more than others: Rockerfellers – University of Chicago; Carnegie, a university and public libraries; Huntington, library; Morgan, library; Stanford, university; Hearst, UC Berkeley; Getty, museum, library. The list is endless until Donald Sterling: PIG.

Sterling has sought publicity for giving; he advertises his giving. Apparently, the dollars don’t appear. A facility for the homeless announced in 2006 hasn’t received a penny. Billionaire Sterling promised $3,000,000 to UCLA, but gave only $500,000, returned last month because of Sterling’s mouth.

For the fashionable and frivolous Los Angeles has countless charitable events: Buy in, socialize with like thinking people, drink upscale booze, be served passable hors d’oeuvres, have trifling conversations with smiling faces, dainty tabs to the face with napkins so not to smear the makeup, have photographs taken for the ego book (and provide an alibi while murders are committed elsewhere).

Is there a way out for Donald Sterling? Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol about Ebenezer Scrooge: Give money plus a change of heart saved Scrooge’s soul. To hell with the soul, Sterling is taking a modern approach: He claims to have cancer and is using the “C” word to garner sympathy. It won’t work. He has shown how bitter, scornful and hateful he is. What in his life makes him that way? Only greed. Most people like him are greedy quietly. Sterling wants to be greedy noise fully, but people no longer have to listen or pay attention.

DEATH BE NOT PROUD, John Gunther

I knew of John Gunther from two sources: Books from Book of the Month Club selections which were in my parents’ bookshelves: They were general and dated before they arrived. AND, upon reading William L. Shirer’s Twentieth Century Journey, he favorably mentions Gunther, a generous journalist and writer, helpful to a newcomer to Paris in the mid-1920s. 

When I found this volume at a library book sale, I tossed it in the dollar bag. This book tells of the last year and a half of Johnny Gunther’s life, son of his parents who died at 17 years. The boy had a brain tumor; he struggled and survived against some of the most primitive, outrageous treatments that can be imagined (use of mustard gas). There apparently was never a doubt about the outcome. The boy would not survive.

Johnny Gunther was intelligent and bright. He had a very pleasant demeanor and disposition. He was positive, despite losing more and more physical and mental functions and abilities.

A month before his death he was at his high school graduation. He sat on a bench getting a calculus lesson from a fellow student. His mother came up, worried he might be tired. Johnny Gunther answered her, giving an alternative title to the book, and a lesson to the human race: “There’s no future to just sitting.

ONE MAN’S MEAT IS NOBODY’S WRITING

ONE MAN’S MEAT, E.B. White

If the author sounds familiar, he authored Elements of Style. At a library sale I found this paperback book and put it into my dollar bag. Hence, the cost was perfect, $.03, plus inside the cover was a bonus, a note from girlfriend to boyfriend: “Dear Dayton [wonder if he races cars] – I enjoyed this very much this summer. White has a way with words! Merry Christmas! Love, Sally”

The book had been read once; there were pages turned down. I wonder if Sally did anything cheesy like give Dayton the copy she had read over the summer. She uses entirely too many exclamation points. If so, I don’t think he read it. I wonder if Sally and Dayton ever married. Probably not. The book was given after 1978. They would be in the late fifties now, and this book would be a keepsake. Divorced? Probably not. Dayton or Sally probably would have removed the note. It’s easy; it’s in there with scotch tape. Dayton had the book, never read it and this year gave it to the library.

Most of the book is properly written, but it is not well written. There is no sense the writer knows how to dramatize a point, an event or a description. He is a poor journalist. Of 304 pages about 30 are engaging and a few are excellent. The remainder is dull, a lot of the writing is about seed crops and animal husbandry (the animals have no names). Examples: 

1) “Removal” is about moving. White’s line should be, “I didn’t like the old mirror. Each time I looked at it, I appeared tired.” INSTEAD, White described his toils trying to rid himself of the mirror and ended the paragraphs with: “A few minutes later, after a quick trip back to the house, I slipped the mirror guiltily in a doorway, a bastard child with not even a note asking the finder to treat it kindly. I took a last look in it and I thought I looked tired.”

2) “Progress and Change,” an article about the El Sixth Street train removed circa 1938. White describes veterans and visitors’ reactions to the train coming into a station. EB mentions the suddenness of the training stopping, and the visitors always being unsettled. But EB does not write it: EB’s spotlight is on the New York City residents who feels superior because he does not wince, but he does not give enough facts to allow the reader to understand why wincing is not necessary.

3) White had very bad hay fever, throughout his life. He went to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 while suffering a bout of hay fever. He wrote, “When you can’t breathe through your nose, Tomorrow seems strangely like the day before yesterday.” Tomorrow is the theme of the fair, but “seems strangely” is a seemingly strange verb and adverb combo. White should complete the simile with a direct verb – “is”, “smells”, or since he’s a mouth breather that day, “tastes.” 

I’ve read most of George Orwell’s essays; they are impossible to remove from my memory. I will say EB White’s writing about totalitarianism is wrong and childish. He reveals he is absolutely ignorant, and poorly read and out of step with thinking and knowledge. Before his death in 1935 Will Rogers told America about Hitler, We’re going to have to watch this guy. ON THE OTHER HAND, White is engaged by The Wave of the Future, Anne Lindbergh, circa 1940. The Lindberghs were pro-Nazi until the United States had to declare war on Germany on December 10, 1941; they then shut up forever. The Lindberghs received medals from the Nazis; they overlooked Crystal Nacht; they disregarded reports of plunder and murder in recently German occupied countries in Europe. Nothing the Lindberghs wrote was worth reading, yet White devotes an article to Anne although is slightly uncomplimentary. In 1941, White gets around to reading Mein Kampf. 

The best article White has in at the beginning, “Removal,” and only part of it: (Written in 1938)

“…Radio has already given sound a wide currency, and sound “effects” are taking the place once enjoyed by sound itself. Television will enormously enlarge the eye’s range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote. More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images – distant and concocted. In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar to us than their originals. A door closing, heard over the air; a face contorted, seen in a panel of light – those will emerge as the real and the true; and when we bang the door of our own cell or look into another’s face the impression will be of mere artifice. I like to dwell on this quaint time, when the solid world becomes make-believe, McCarthy corporeal and Bergen stuffed, when all is reversed and we shall be like the insane, to whom the antics of the sane seem crazy twistings of a grig”

White is entirely correct that television has contributed to depersonalizing human society, and that it will allow broadcasters and governments to be and promote dishonesty: “…sights may become more familiar to us than their originals.” One would expect that human beings with less intelligence would have the most difficulty determining what is “the real and the true,” and what “will be of mere artifice.” HOWEVER, White himself {Ivy League, Eastern Establishment} amply demonstrates in One Man’s Meat that he is completely befuddled. He is dwelling “on this quaint time,” but neglecting to use his powers to examine it. 

White quotes excellent passages from Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, about the weaknesses and annoyances of the spoken word, but upon reading Mein Kampf, White writes and quotes in “Freedom,” 

“…it is not the written word but the spoken word, which in heated movements moves great masses of people to noble or ignoble action. The written word, unlike the spoken word, is something which every person examines privately and judges calmly by his own intellectual standards, not by what the stand standing next to him thinks, ‘I know,” wrote Hitler, ‘that one is able to win people far more by the spoken than the written word…’ Later he adds contemptuously, ‘For let it be said to all knights of the pen and to all the political dandies, especially of today: the greatest changes in this world have never yet been brought about by a goose quill. No, the pen has always been reserved to motivate these things theoretically.'” 

White properly reports what others have said about the spoken versus the written word, but where is the further analysis from the  Eastern Establishment, Ivy League great mind? White says of himself in the same article, “Luckily, I’m not out to change the world…” The best that could be said of White is he is lazy and vacuous. The worse justifiable conclusion is, White is intellectually dishonest. He complains about mass media changing human behavior and society, yet he is unable to cope with the confusion, so sticks his head in his salt water farm on the Maine coast.

 

 

WAR AS I KNEW IT, George S. Patton

Seven months after the end of World War Two in Europe Patton was seriously injured in an auto accident. Two weeks later he died.

For his family he wrote a brief memoir of his commanding experiences, and the “dash” across France in a chapter entitled: Touring France With an Army. That chapter is the best account of rolling the German Army out of France: The Germans had no time to plan and burn Paris. It took less than a month for the Third Army to go from Normandy to Lorraine with a detour west through Brittany.

Because “Touring France” is short there is no good account of that month’s campaign and the decisions – day to day, tactical and strategic which Patton made. At one time he determined that German occupied France did not mean the German Army was there. Patton left his flank open to attack figuring that any Germans would be subject to air attack followed by ground forces. He swept the enemy east. To a field commander Patton challenged: “Why haven’t you taken Chartres?” “There are Germans there.” Patton didn’t know but said, “There are no Germans in Chartres! If you aren’t in Chartres by 5:00 p.m., you’re relieved of command.” Patton left. The field officer gathered available forces and drove into Chartres which had been evacuated by the Germans.

It is important to know the highlights of Patton’s campaigns because this book also has command and military guidelines: How to fight in a forest, in town, etc. How his army command was organized. How he ordered everyone to do their work. These 80 pages of management and business techniques are informative if one can extrapolate from the military and war to business. OR, if a writer can, by analogy, use military tactics to attack and write a novel. It is entirely feasible that writing a book is a type of war, waged by the writer who strives for perfection. (Patton says perfection is not possible, only victory.) How a writer approaches the subject and how to go about expressing ideas through the characters, or whether an idea can be carried from character to character. Write efficiently, write effectively, write economically. The three “Es” are all military concepts which will make writing better and more perfect.

I have yet to figure out and understand the military campaign in France in August 1944, but I know Patton’s management instructions and tips are of value beyond their military specificities.