Archive for February 8th, 2010

February 8, 2010

Unrelated quotes

Louis de Bernières on Ataturk:

I learned that you couldn’t satirise him because he wasn’t remotely ridiculous … He was the only dictator in the history of the world who wanted his country to get smaller. He’s also the only dictator in the world who set up his own opposition party, and when it didn’t oppose him effectively, he abolished it and established another.

Elif Batuman on writing and criticism:

The premium on conciseness and concreteness made proper names a great value—so they came flying at you as if out of a tennis-ball machine: Julia, Juliet, Viola, Violet, Rusty, Lefty, Carl, Carla, Carleton, Mamie, Sharee, Sharon, Rose of Sharon (a Native American), Hassan. Each name betrayed a secret calculation, a weighing of plausibility against precision: On the one hand, the cat called King Spanky; on the other, the cat called Cat. In either case, the result somehow seemed false, contrived—unlike Tolstoy’s double Alexeis, and unlike Chekhov’s characters, many of whom didn’t have names at all. In “Lady With Lapdog,” Gurov’s wife, Anna’s husband, Gurov’s crony at the club, even the lapdog, are all nameless. No contemporary American short-story writer would have had the stamina not to name that lapdog. They were too caught up in trying to bootstrap from a proper name to a meaningful individual essence—like the “compassionate” TV doctor who informs her colleagues: “She has a name.

But names don’t work that way. As Derrida once wrote, the singularity of the proper name is inextricable from its generality: It always has to be possible for one thing to be named after any other named thing, and for different people, like the characters in Anna Karenina, to be called by the same name. The basic tension of the name is that it simultaneously does and does not designate the unique individual. As someone who likes to keep to a minimum her visits to Planet Derrida—that land where all seemingly secondary phenomena are actually primary, and anything you can think of doing is an act of violence, practically by virtue of your having thought about it using some words that were also known to Aristotle—I nonetheless felt that Derrida had been right about names. More important, he had really thought about names, about how special they are, so that, even if Of Grammatology was more painful to read than the Best American Short Stories, still it belonged to a discourse that tried to say something about what things mean.