Bernard Page 8
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.