Thursday, July 15, 2021

Swimmer - Clear writing… is aggressive and sadisti

 I notice everything I do not have
and decide

 it is beautiful …

Former President Donald Trump in his speech at the CPAC  conservative conference Sunday made a frank admission: that he judges the reliability of poll results on whether he wins them.

Trump on polling: "If it's bad, I say it's fake. If it's good, I say, that's the most accurate poll perhaps ever."

IRS Reverses Course, Grants Tax-Exempt Status To Organization That Encourages Christians To ‘Pray, Vote, Engage’ After Initially Saying Bible Teachings Are Associated With Republican Party.

“There’d be much less pessimistic skepticism about the future of analytic philosophy if people were more familiar with some of the reasons to reject [the ‘grand march to Kripke’] narrative” — Preston Stovall (University of Hradec Králové) defends analytic philosophy

“College vaccination requirements decidedly do not violate the core principles of medical ethics” — Nathan Nobis (Morehouse) responds to critics of the requirements

  1. “Clear writing… is aggressive and sadistic—not in its content but in the domination it attempts” — Simon Evnine (Miami) on clarity
  2. “The world’s foremost consequentialist signed. The world’s foremost deontologist signed. Two of the most prominent bioethicists in the world signed…” Not good enough? — on the effort to hold human challenge trials in the U.S., and other aspects of COVID-19 response
  3. Philosophy has “a tradition that you cut other people down… I sometimes hear our female students say, ‘I can’t really be a philosopher because that’s not what I feel like doing’” — “I say to them, ‘There are many different ways of doing philosophy'” — Martha Nussbaum (Chicago)
  4. Getting students to do the readings — at The Philosophers’ Cocoon, with helpful suggestions in the comments
  5. “A young man smoking a pipe cannot do so without looking like a pompous dick… and Classics finds itself in a similar quandary” — actor Stephen Fry on breaking the cycle of elitism and showing the value of the classics to today’s youth (via The Browser)

Let’s Leave It There and Agree to Disagree'

A friend recently bought the fat red collection of John Cheever’s stories published in 1978 that revitalized the writer's alcohol-corroded reputation. He asked me for a list of the stories I would recommend, and I suggested six titles including “The Swimmer.” It was the only story he didn’t like: “I don’t generally go for unreality in fiction, except in touches. In ‘The Swimmer,’ the unreality is front and center.” I too don’t go in for most “unreality” in stories and novels. While admitting that “realism” is a slippery term, I happily detest entire genres – science fiction, ghost stories, horror, swords-and-dragons fantasy –  rooted in its opposite. I have no use for what Philip Larkin dismissed as “a common myth-kitty.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. It had been years since I last read “The Swimmer” (or seen the cringingly bad Burt Lancaster film adapted from it in 1968), but I recalled no elements of unreality in the story. I figured Neddy Merrill, the title character, has had a psychotic episode, a breakdown of personality, complete with delusions and hallucinations, and Cheever shares them with us. As Neddy swims home across the county, reality seeps in. Along the way there are hints of financial ruin, alcohol abuse and promiscuity. When Cheever writes that Neddy “was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure,” I see a delusional figure given to grandiosity, similar to characters in Richard Yates’ fiction. When I explained this to my friend, he replied:


“Our understandings of the story are dramatically different. I read it as a kind of time-travel story. Neddy’s swim is a journey into his ill-fated future. The pools represent stages of his life. As the story progresses, he ages—his swimming trunks become too large for him; he loses strength in his limbs; he enters a pool by the steps for the first time in his life instead of diving in; and at the end he's stooped and has to hold on to a gatepost for support. Cheever telescopes time in another way. In the course of a single afternoon, midsummer turns into autumn--the constellations of summer disappear, leaves change color, there’s an ‘autumnal fragrance’ in the air--and on the final page the water in a pool is ‘icy’ . . . ‘The Swimmer’ is metaphorical, not to be taken literally.”


Everything my friend says is accurate, and his understanding of the story is consistent with everything Cheever tells us, yet it had never occurred to me. The story was first published in The New Yorker in 1964, and I must have first read it within a few years, certainly by 1970. I read the story yet again on Thursday with my friend’s interpretation in mind. He’s “right.” And so am I, though I had forgotten certain details. For instance, Lucinda, Neddy’s wife, is present at the poolside gathering at the start of the story, before he begins his swim home. Once there, he learns the house is empty, locked up and in disrepair. His wife and four daughters are gone.


What do these variant readings of Cheever’s story reveal about the two readers in question? Mutual respect for one thing. No name calling or contempt. “Let’s leave it there and agree to disagree,” my friend writes. Agreed.

[The other stories I recommended: “The Country Husband,” “The Brigadier and the Golf Widow,” “The Day the Pig Fell into the Well,” “The Sorrows of Gin,” “Reunion.”]