Magazine article The Spectator

Examine My Thoughts

Magazine article The Spectator

Examine My Thoughts

Article excerpt

The following extracts are from The Blind Eye: A Book of Late Advice by Don Paterson (Faber, £12.99. ) Please don't be misled by the apparent selfcertainty of these utterances; be assured that after each one I nervously delete the words but that's probably just me, right . . .

I can see exactly what not to do at the moment. No doubt through the usual process of elimination I'll arrive at my favourite strategy of total paralysis.

With your back to the wall, always pay a compliment. Even your mugger or torturer is not immune to flattery, and still capable of being a little disarmed by a word of congratulation on their choice of footwear or superior technique.

I realise whatever slight physical appeal I may once have possessed has long faded, but I should have put more store by it at the time: I foolishly believed I might rely on my personality a little longer.

His song was going so well, until I heard him express himself. Then I knew I could never play the track again, as I'd spend all my time in anticipatory dread of that one note.

His friendship was index-linked to my popularity, and would cool and warm and cool again in the course of a single evening. Immediately after one fortuitous but rather spectacular witticism, he offered me the use of his villa in the Turks and Caicos.

Alas, I was fatally emboldened by this small success, and by the time the coffee had arrived he had forgotten my name again.

It appeared clear from his letters and emails that this saintly individual was a petty and embittered monster. Then it later emerged, from the testimony of his close friends, that he was nothing of the sort, and capable of many discreet and time-consuming acts of charity. But then it further emerged, from the testimony of his abused wife and damaged children, to what extent his friends were mistaken. And then one day they found his secret journal, where his own inner torment - as well as his early brutalisation at the hands of his father - was revealed, after which it was hard not to forgive him everything. Our error lay in our sentimental desire to read him as a recursive series, with each nested personality revealing a deeper truth.

He was merely, like everyone else, a complete mess; an answer we are never satisfied with.

The emotional monotony of High Modernism. An anecdotal proof: look at how in Amadeus Peter Shaffer used Mozart's own music to illustrate every episode in the composer's life: his grief, joy, angst, love, his pranks, frustration, hilarity . . . Now: imagine a life of Schoenberg, similarly scored. In every scene - tennis court, birthday party, love-, birth- or death-bed - you'd be expecting an escaped lunatic in a fright mask to burst from the cupboard with an axe.

We were strolling along the street, and passed a couple of sleepy undergraduates. Suddenly my companion interjected - so then I shot him in the face - a terrible fucking mess, brains all up the walls . . . for no reason other than to bring a little colour into the lives of his eavesdroppers.

He then resumed our conversation on Sondheim.

When you respond by acting just as they do, low men immediately impute to you their own motives, and are torn between fear and camaraderie.

You've made a blog . . . Clever boy! Next:

flushing.

Allowed myself a smile this morning at a letter innocently referring to 'my love of the aphoristic form'. Christ - do you think if I really had a choice, I would write this? We occupy the margins through fate, not allegiance.

'N ow I'll read a funny poem.' Oh, I thought. I'll be the judge of that.

'Now I'll read a long poem. …

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