06 October 2008

Quotes from Renata Adler's "Speedboat"

"This is perhaps the worst book ever written but it's won prizes and is considered to be some fine writing. Each paragraph starts off with a new topic and there is absolutely no connection between any of the paragraphs." [cite]

"nobody died that year. nobody prospered. there were no births or marriages. seventeen reverent satires were written – disrupting a cliché and, presumably, creating a genre. that was a dream, of course, but many of the most important things, I find, are the ones learned in your sleep. speech, tennis, music, skiing, manners, love – you try them waking and perhaps balk at the jump, and then you’re over. you’ve caught the rhythm of them once and for all, in your sleep at night. the city, of course, can wreck it. so much insomnia. so many rhythms collide. the salesgirl, the landlord, the guests, the bystanders, sixteen varieties of social circumstance in a day. everyone has the power to call your whole life into question here. too many people have access to your state of mind. some people are indifferent to dislike, even relish it. hardly anyone I know." [p3]

"The host, for some reason, was taking Instamatic pictures of his guests. It was not clear whether he was doing this in order to be able to show, at some future time, that there had been this gathering in his house. Or whether he thought of pictures in some voodoo sense. Or whether he found it difficult to talk. Or whether he was bored. Two underground celebrities—one of whom had become a sensation by never generating or exhibiting a flicker of interest in anything, the other of whom was known mainly for hanging around the first—were taking pictures too." [p60]

"My friend across the hall, who owns the beagle, looked very sad all evening. He said, abruptly, that he was cracking up, and no one would believe him. There were sirens in the street. Inez said she knew exactly what he meant: she was cracking up also. Her escort, a pale Italian jeweler, said, “I too. I too have it....” Our sportswriter said he had recently met a girl whose problem was stealing all the suede garments of house guests, and another, in her thirties, who cried all the time because she had not been accepted at Smith. We heard many more sirens in the streets. We all went home." [p68]

"She was a dynamite girl and he was an aces fellow. On the day he at last agreed by phone to marry her, the switchboard operators were overjoyed. For six months they had listened, in sympathy and indignation, to the tears, the threats, the partings and reconciliations. They were so unequivocally for the girl that only the purest professionalism kept them, at times, from breaking in. On the day Tim, after calls to his best friend, his firs wife, and his therapist, gave in at last, the oldest operator, who had been on the switchboard for twenty years, actually wept. The other two told the receptionist, at lunch. All four ladies had a drink, and then bought a card of slightly obscene felicitations. They had wavered toward the sentimental, but rejected it as basically unswinging. They did not sign the card. Tim and his girl, who had been breaking up once again on the day they received it (she was packing; they were in his apartment, were appalled. As a result of the card, and discussions of what to do about it—what it implied, who knew and who didn’t—they married." [p19]

"I often wonder about the people who linger over trash baskets at the corners of the city's sidewalks. One sees them day and night, young and old, well dressed, in rags—often with shopping bags—picking over the trash. They pick out newspapers, envelopes. They discard things. I often wonder who they are and that they're after. I approach and cannot ask them. Anyway, they scurry off. Some times I think they are writers who do not write. That 'writers write' is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all." []

“Speech, tennis, music, skiing, manners, love- you try them waking and perhaps balk at the jump, and then you’re over. You’ve caught the rhythm of them once and for all, in your sleep at night. The city, of course, can wreck it. So much insomnia. So many rhythms collide. The salesgirl, the landlord, the guests, the bystanders, sixteen varieties of social circumstance in a day. Everyone has the power to call your whole life into question here. Too many people have access to your state of mind. Some people are indifferent to dislike, even relish it. Hardly anyone I know.” []

"Sometimes I miss, or lose, the point. Late-sleeping utopians, especially, persist like mercury. I am a fanatic myself, although not a woman of temperament. I get nervous at scenes. I stole a washcloth once from a motel in Angkor Wat. The bellboy was incensed. I had to give it back. To promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—- I believe all that. I go to parties whenever I am asked. I think a high tone of moral indignation, used too often, is an ugly thing. I get up at eight. Quite often now I have a drink before eleven. In some ways, I have overshot my mark in life in spades." []

"Sometimes a stupid child would tie a firecracker to a crayfish or a frog just once, and light the fuse. Or give a piece of sugar to a raccoon, which in its odd fastidiousness would wash that sugar in a brook till there was nothing left." []

"It may be that we were retarded. We were younger. We were other people, anyway, in another world." []

"She apologized to one egg for having boiled it, to another for not having selected it to boil. Since it was impossible to know with much precision whether an egg prefers to be boiled or not to, she was always in a state of indecision, followed, as soon as she had taken any action, by extreme remorse. Since this is not far from the predicament of most people of any sensitivity or conscience, she passed for normal."

"My capacity for having a good time exists. It surfaces, however, on odd occasions."

"My grandmother, too, used to put other people's ailments into the diminutive: strokelets were what her friends had. Aldo said he was bored to tearsies by my grandmother's diminutives."

"Things have changed very much, several times, since I grew up, and, like everyone in New York except the intellectuals, I have led several lives and I still lead some of them."

"Our full professors, tenured faculty, teach H.B.A., or Hours by Appointment; that is, never."

"A 'self-addressed envelope,' if you are inclined to brood, raises deep questions of identity."

"They want to do good and to know, like people out of E.M. Forster, or Henry James."

"When I wonder what it is that we are doing-- in the brownstone, on this block, with this paper-- the truth is probably that we are fighting for our lives."

"Situations simply do not yield to the most likely structures of the mind."

“But there are cramps of an entirely other order, when even hardened doctors—- knowing it is not important, only temporary—- reach for the Demerol and the needle. It must be so in every lonely degrading thing from which one comes back having learned nothing whatever. There are no conclusions to be drawn from it. Lonely people see double entendres everywhere.”

“It is all gone, after childhood knowledge of myths, constellations, baseball scores, dinosaurs, and idioms of the tennis court and athletic field. There are outcroppings of the old vocabularies still. Pinnies from field hockey. Heels down. Bad hop. Sorry. My fault. So sorry.” []

"At six one morning, Will went out in jeans and frayed sweater to buy a quart of milk. A tourist bus went by. The megaphone was directed at him. 'There's one,' it said. That was in the l960s. Ever since, he's wondered. There's one what?"

"Sanity is the most profound moral option of our time."

"The philosophers at the great universities were, without exception, failed mathematicians. When they were not examining much of the vocabulary of civilized discourse to conclude that it, after all, lacked meaning, they muttered Gödel, Russell, Hilbert, liking to imply that they themselves had chosen philosophy over mathematics to give themselves a wider, though related intellectual field."

"What is the point. That is what must be borne in mind. Sometimes the point is really who wants what. Sometimes the point is what is right or kind. Sometimes the point is a momentum, a fact, a quality, a voice, an intimation, a thing said or unsaid. Sometimes it's who's at fault, or what will happen if you do not move at once. The point changes and goes out. You cannot be forever watching for the point, or you lose the simplest thing: being a major character in your own life.
But if you are, for any length of time, custodian of the point-- in art, in court, in politics, in lives, in rooms-- it turns out there are rearguard actions everywhere. To see a thing clearly, and when your vision of it dims, or when it goes to someone else, if you have a gentle nature, keep your silence, that is lovely. Otherwise, now and then, a small foray is worthwhile. Just so that being always, complacently, thoroughly wrong does not become the safest position of them all. The point has never quite been entrusted to me."

"No crimes is no small thing"

"Somebody was nudging my tray along the rail at the museum cafeteria. I was trying to keep my tray from bumping the tray ahead. I held my fingers firmly on the tray top, hooked my thumbs underneath the steel bar. The pressure of the nudging tray increased. I gave in to the superior determination. Doubtless, the tray pusher had had an awful day. I let go. My tray slid into the next tray, which slid into the next, which crashed into another. At the cashier's corner, there was a pileup. Teabags, Jell-O, trays all over everything."

"I have the shakes a good part of the time (which interferes no end with taking notes)"

"Violent things are always happening to the very rich, and to the poor, of course. Freak accidents befall the middle classes in their midst."

"'I can't believe it,' people said, almost with a passion. It was that year's version of hello. 'I can't believe it,' people said, on the beach, on the slopes, in hotel lobbies, in cells, at parties. Apparently incredulous, astounded, people met. Sometimes the rejoinder was, 'For God's sake,' as in 'Harry! Maude! I can't believe it.' 'Marilyn! Well, for God's sake.' Sometimes people changed it slightly. When we had just come back to the office, a middle-aged couple, he with the heartiness of another era, she with a certain trembly superstition, met in the elevator only yesterday. 'Well, as I live and breathe,' he shouted. 'Touch wood,' she replied."

"Most women have shames or sins or crimes. But confidences, apart from the lives of schoolgirls, belong to women of timidity or power." [cite]

"or the streets cleared of traffic, except ambulances." []

"That 'writers write' is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all." []

"It could be that the sort of sentence one wants right here is the kind that runs, and laughs, and slides, and stops right on a dime."

Some of these RA quotes may be from Speedboat:

Bored people, unless they sleep a lot, are cruel.

Idle people are often bored and bored people, unless they sleep a lot, are cruel. It is not accident that boredom and cruelty are great preoccupations in our time.

Fear... is forward. No one is afraid of yesterday.

The writer has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress.

Nothing defines the quality of life in a community more clearly than people who regard themselves, or whom the consensus chooses to regard, as mentally unwell.

People have been modeling their lives after films for years, but the medium is somehow unsuited to moral lessons, cautionary tales or polemics of any kind.

There follows a little obscenity here, a dash of philosophy there, considerable whining overall, and a modern satirical novel is born.

Moral self-infatuation has its own corruptions, after all. With time, almost every other principle of the magazine acquired an ironic echo, a sort of cackling aftermath.

No one ever confides a secret to one person only. No one destroys all copies of a document.

In the strange heat all litigation brings to bear on things, the very process of litigation fosters the most profound misunderstandings in the world.

It is always self-defeating to pretend to the style of a generation younger than your own; it simply erases your own experience in history.