woman's cheek the moment before she blushes. To say nothing of anything
more complicated or abstract.
The related question~whether language can adequately express any truth
whatever, however modest~for example, what time it is~is still left
dangling, like a fish hook without a weight in cold and cloudy water.
And the writer remains with his dilemma: should he aim for truthfulness
or effectiveness, honesty or manipulation, integrity or seduction~and
how much of each should he blend in his work, if it's possible to
combine them; and what should he do if he finds that each corrupts
and nullifies the other? Choose between them and thereby lose either
integrity or communication? Abandon the whole thing as a bad job and
retreat into a Trappist silence, or do something useful and honest
like plumbing? Or let the problem burn, even as you once again fail
to solve it, buckle down and blemish one more page with
the signs of your latest defeat.
A brief historical detour: Reading Paul Johnson's illuminating
if sometimes dyspeptic history of the twentieth century has led me
conclude something I have often keenly felt: that much of the last
century was indeed ruled by a kind of (to borrow one of Johnson's
favorite terms of opprobrium) murderous frivolousness. The tenor of
much of that time was a moral insanity reinforced, not by the moral
relativism Johnson repeatedly condemns, but by a belief in moral absolutes,
in particular the absolutes of power, the supposed imperatives of
history, survival, success, and a belief that any means are justified
to attain them. The frivolousness appeared largely in the aesthetics
of moral justification used to make palatable the horrors of the means:
a cynical nod to virtue by a sometimes overwhelming evil.