Friday, December 17, 2010

Samuel Johnson and Gertrude Stein in Heaven

Samuel Johnson and Gertrude Stein in Heaven

Lapidarian stylists, hard prose. Ugly people--at least
according to those who make the rules, which Sam
and Gert upheld devoutly or smashed like Vikings,
depending on the whims of their intelligence. Smarter
than the rest, they were, and than the best, around
whom they lived.  They were both puritanical
Epicureans. They had a powerful desire to be
chaste, which showed up in prayers and prose
but not so much in life, which is an exuberant affair.

Sam had Hetty and Boswell and a cobbled
entourage. Gert had Alice and Paris and lots
of names to drop.  Each was a bit of a hick,
a tourist, a clod--the chief effect of which
was to compress their anxieties and sharpen
mental blades  Gert was from Oakland, which
she tried to erase by saying  that it didn't have
a there. Sam was from Lichfield and had
bad shoes, nervous ticks, and a marred face.
Gert had the nose of a battleship. Lord Almighty,
no wonder they're glad to be paired in Heaven,
where they read each other's writings and get
all the uncanny connections.

Each of them devoured the Age. Each was
interested in writing lives in the process of
composing their own. Both could be cruel,
but not for long. Neither grasped Empire or
other larger structures. They operated in
small spaces, like boxers. They never got
over their crushes on London and Paris.

Hard prose easily understood. What's not
to understand? they ask each other in
Heaven, dining and drinking extravagantly.
Prose is there to preserve surges of intellect.
They get to missing Alice and Boswell, so
here they go, searching, walking together--
oh my, what a sight.  Peering around a
corner, very short Picasso sketches them
and yearns to cry out that he is a genius, too.
But God's put Pablo on probation.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom
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