Tag Archives: steinbeck

Cannery Row (II)

“I was glad when you hit me,” Mack went on. “I thought to myself – ‘Maybe this will teach me. Maybe I’ll remember this.’ But, hell, I won’t remember nothin’. I won’t learn nothin’. Doc,” (..)
J. Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books 2009, Cannery Row, p. 496.

But he did learn. He was made to learn. Somehow learning is a sad thing because learning is leaving something behind and speeding away from it and that is why it is so common not to want to learn. Learning is picking up speed without knowing where you are getting to faster. There is a deep universal melancholy for a state of innocence which is a state of non-learning: the status quo.

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Cannery Row (1)

“It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary.”
John Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 410.

Why quote a crooked sentence out of a book full of exquisitely rounded ones? Because it is the idea that counts. The formulation of the idea helps but is not the essential part of why something resonates. Formulation fetishism is probably the predominant attitude in assessing the value of writing but in the end it is a lot like preferring The Harlem Globetrotters to the Dream Team.

What is the ‘it’ in the quote? What can a friend make unnecessary? Surely not a man’s right to kill himself. It must be the desire to exercise the right. That’s what it is to be a friend: to acknowledge your friend’s autonomy without leaving him or her alone in expressing it. Everything comes back to the Principle of Charity, including applying charity to a sentence with a, let’s assume, unintended twist. It is with language as it is with the main characters of Cannery Row:

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