Thursday, May 17, 2007

To Dream The Impossible Dream

The experience is one of intense longing. It is distinguished from other longings by two things. In the first place, though the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight. Other desires are felt as pleasures only if satisfaction is expected in the near future: hunger is pleasant only while we know (or believe) that we are soon going to eat. But this desire, even when there is no hope of possible satisfaction, continues to be prized, and even to be preferred to anything else in the world, by those who have once felt it. This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth. And thus it comes about, that if the desire is long absent, it may itself be desired, and that new desiring becomes a new instance of the original desire, though the subject may not at once recognize the fact and thus cries out for his lost youth of soul at the very moment in which he is being rejuvenated. This sounds complicated, but it is simple when we live it. ‘Oh to feel as I did then!’ we cry; not noticing that even while we say the words the very feeling whose loss we lament is rising again in all its old bitter-sweetness. For this sweet Desire cuts across our ordinary distinctions between wanting and having. To have it is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find, is to have it.

C S Lewis was talking about eating in bed - obviously.


1) Monroe's fell on evil days -
His woman and his friend is dead.
Monre's fell on evil days,
Can't hardly get his bread.

In this poem, Langston Hughes writes about a man who can no longer enjoy the experience of breakfast in bed because of a painful family death. It is because of Hughes' committed social poetry that we are aware of these tragic circumstances today.

2) ... but how
Shall we satisfy when we meet,
Between Shall-I and I-Will,
The lion's mouth whose hunger
No metaphors can fill?

Auden, in his philosophical way, discusses the paradox of eating in bed: 'Shall-I' get out of bed to make a meal? Or 'I-Will' stay in bed until my partner brings me a meal: it is certainly a deep philosophical dilemma. But in the meantime, what is to be done with 'the lion's mouth whose hunger/No metaphors can fill?'

3) At the end of three days, moving southward, you come upon Anastasia, a city with concentric canals watering it and kites flying over it. I should now list the wares that can profitably be bought here: agate, onyx, chrysoprase, and other varieties of chalcedony; I should praise the flesh of the golden pheasant cooked here over fires of seasoned chery wood and sprinkled with much sweet marjoram; and tell of the women I have seen bathing in the pool of a garden and who sometimes - it is said - invite the stranger to disrobe with them and chase them in the water. But with all this, I would not be telling you the city's true essence; for while the description of Anastasia awakens desires one at a time only to force you to stifle them, when you are in the heart of Anastasia one morning your desires waken all at once and surround you. The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content. Such is the power, sometimes called malignant, sometimes benign, that Anastasia, the treacherous city, possesses; if for eight hours a day you work as a cutter of agate, onyx, chrysoprase, your labor which gives form to desire takes from desire its form, and you believe you are enjoying Anastasia wholly when you are only its slave.

Calvino goes on to explain in detail the long history of the 'Breakfast In Bed Waiters Union' in this city. To labour your long life to bring others breakfast in bed, and never to receive it yourself! It is a most exquisite form of torture!

4) Was it a dreame, or did I see it playne;
A goodly table of pure yvory,
All spred with juncats, fit to entertayne
The greatest Prince with pompous roialty...

This is the beginning of an entire sonnet sequence in which Spenser describes in wondering, elaborate detail a waking dream he had in which an angel brought him breakfast in bed. Could such a dream be possible? He never seems quite sure.

So you see, eating in bed has a long history!


Karen said...

I'm so touched that our random conversation could have provoked such literate musings and pleased to see that Spenser was not neglected. The Lewis is beautiful, isn't it? Barthes' A Lover's Discourse is a favourite of mine in that realm.

"The tables would glow
With the lustre of years
To ornament our room.
The rarest of blooms
Would mingle their scents
With amber's vague perfume.
The ceilings, rich
The mirrors, deep-
The splendour of the East-
All whisper there
To the silent soul
Her sweet familiar speech.

There, all is order and leisure,
Luxury, beauty and pleasure.

And these canals
Bear ships at rest,
Although in a wandering mood;
To gratify
Your least desire
They have sailed around the world.
The setting suns
Enrobe the fields
The canals, the entire town
With hyacinth, gold;
The world falls asleep
In a warmly glowing gown".

from Baudelaire- "Invitation to the Voyage" (James McGowan trans.)

Some partners will go to extraordinary lengths to find an appropriate meal for consumption in bed, resulting in a much prolonged enjoyment of the sort of thing Lewis is talking about.

TimT said...

I wonder if things worked out for C S? If he got his wish, he'll now be eating breakfast in bed for all eternity. Let's hope he's not afflicted with crumbs for eternity. What does Barbara Byfield have to say about this? (Crumbs in bed, I mean, not metaphysical considerations such as heaven).

Karen said...

CS? Sorry, dopey with rain.

I just remembered that there's a production of Shadowlands on and I was thinking about seeing it if it seems any good. The trouble is, I can never get anyone to go to these things! I've had theatre-going buddies in the past, but I always manage to ruin things by choosing something with gnomes waving dandelions whilst jumping on sandcastles and then I lose my theatre-going buddy forever more. Sigh!

You're determined to make me type up the whole book, aren't you? If it was mine, I'd give it to you, but, alas, it is not. To answer your question, BNB is unfazed by the prospect of crumbs. She stipulates that all preparation take place in the kitchen- "None of that belongs in your bed"- and suggests that one make one's bed with only the very best percale, on account of its remarkable "crumb-shedding ability" (one sells the dining room table and chairs in order to afford it). "Naturally we do not acknowledge crumbs as a problem," quoth Barbara. "But should one upset a bowl of shredded wheat, percale is the thing to do it on. For very festive occasions I suggest making up your bed with a pair of damask banquet cloths; the neighbourhood seamstress has run up pillow cases for me out of Granny's wedding napkins and I find them very satisfactory".

Personally, I don't run to percale, but I do have a double bed, so I simply shift the crumbs to the side I'm not lying on, when they become too heavy in concentration.

TimT said...

According to a piece by S J Perelman I read this morning, some Hollywood starlets would habitually rub their skin (etc) in remnants of food. So maybe don't even bother shoving it aside?

"Like Dolores Moran, for instance. Any discussion of lovely Hollywood elbows would be incomplete without reference to hers; I myself recall more than one such discussion that seemed frustrated and sterile because no reference was made to Miss Moran's elbows. To keep them trig and alluring, the blonde starlet rests them on two halves of a lemon for 20 minutes while she rehearses her lines, then rubs them satin-smooth with olive oil. Julie Bishop preserves her hands by rolling them in oatmeal (which of course she discards before playing her more romantic love scenes)..."

TimT said...

Shadowlands? A production? Sounds absolutely spiffing. If I were in Sydney, I'd go. Thank you for the Baudelaire and Barbara Byfield quotations! Your effort is appreciated!

Karen said...

It's interesting, isn't it? There are so many beauty products based around food- and there's an entire chain (I think it's called "Lush" or something like that) where one can buy "chocolate", "ice cream", etc toiletires and cosmetics, because god knows one couldn't let oneself actually eat such things!

I did run into this girl who used to be my theatre buddy (I scared her off with absurdist theatre) and she expressed a wish to go again, provided I choose "naturalistic" productions. I'm really not so bereft as I make out- my sister did voluntarily sit through all 8 hours of The Lost Echo with me, after all.

I'm glad my efforts are appreciated. I was going to type out the whole thing with the Baudelaire, but then I realised that the translation is probably copyright, not that the copyright police would be scanning the comments of a blog, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

TimT said...

Did you find the echo?

Karen said...

Haw haw haw. You make the jokes even Barbara wouldn't touch.

I don't think it went to Melbourne (link in case you don't know what I'm talking about).

Caz said...

Tim - you're not really a grown up until all your linen is percale, and only ever percale, preferably with an Egyptian heritage.

I've never been one for eating in bed, unless it's for purely ... aahh ... erotic value, or as accompaniment to personal entertainments, if you like.

Strawberries and ice cream don't leave crumbs. Neither does melted chocolate.

TimT said...

Well, it took me a while to find it, but when I found it, I was very impressed by it.

TimT said...

But thank heavens I never went into I.T.

TimT said...

I wish I knew what percale was. Strategically, I suppose, if you're going to eat in bed icecream and chocolate would be just the ticket, but first thing in the morning? Breakfast in bed would be a whole different kettle of fish (not literally (or probably not, anyway)) to dessert in bed.

Steve said...

If you are interested in my opinion on Shadowlands, I really liked the original British tele-movie version (I can't remember who played Lewis), but quite disliked the Hollywood version (with Anthony Hopkins). I assume the telemovie was based on a play, but perhaps it was the other way around.

If you want to feel sad, you should read his "A Grief Observed", which was his account of how he felt after his wife's death.

Karen said...


It's based on a play (I assume) of the same name by William Nicholson, but there's also a biography with that title. I haven't seen the Hopkins film- is it very overblown?

I'm always up for feeling sad, so I'll keep an eye out for "A Grief Observed", thanks. Of course, if you really want to bawl your eyes out, there's Iris or John Bayley's Elegy for Iris.

TimT said...

C S Lewis themed review coming up - I've been reading a biography, in case you've all been wondering why I've been talking about him lately.

Iris - now, by crikey, there was a depressing film.

Talking about depressing, there's a Radiohead song on at the moment. Ho hum...

Karen said...

The A.N. Wilson one? I almost bought that at a book sale yesterday, but it was just a bit too dear for a second-hand paperback. Very disappointing book sale overall, but I did get some nice books about Art Noveau.

I loved Radiohead when I was a morbid teenager, although the true soundtrack of my adolescence is PJ Harvey's Rid of Me.

Karen said...

Oh, and have you been to the curiosity cabinet place yet? I want a review of that too (if I may be so bold).

Steve said...

Karen, the Anthony Hopkins version got me offside right from the start, with a scene in which Lewis was being admired as having some kind of sex appeal to a bunch of women listing to him give a religous talk. Lewis was not a particularly physically attractive man, and his wife was no great looker either, as Tim can probably confirm if there are some photos in his biography. The movie prettied them up very, very much, and (I think) also downplayed Joy's rather assertive and scratchy character, which got a lot of Lewis' friends wondering what he saw in her. (I think even the original teleplay can be accused of this too, though.)

Oh, the Wikipedia entry confirms it was a telemovie first, then a play, then the Hollywood version.

Clair Bloom played Joy in the telemovie. I liked her ever since Brideshead Revisited.

Which reminds me, Tim. I don't recall you mentioning Evelyn Waugh much, but I would imagine he is a writer you would like a great deal.

TimT said...

C S Lewis was a slaphead! Oh, okay, he was a baldy. Quite tall, had a booming voice which he used in lectures and presumably to excoriate his intellectual enemies. He never owned a watch, but would borrow one from a student when he walked into a lecture theatre so he could know when his time was up! If you like that sort of thing.

Review is not going well, but however bad it is, I expect it will be posted shortly.

Karen said...

That sounds like that scene at the beginning of one of the Indiana Jones movies! It is indeed difficult for Hollywood to believe that persons who are not "conventionally attractive" can have great romances, but perhaps they're just playing to the market. The most egregious example of this would have to be the casting of Possession, which I have not watched as a result. My sister had to show a documentary to some second-year university students a few weeks ago. It was presented by David Suzuki, who at one point made a reference to a former girlfriend. A number of the students sniggered riotously at the idea that anyone older than themselves might once have had a sexual relationship. I've had similar experiences teaching, although it is enlightening to know that it happens in science classes too. And scratchiness should never be downplayed- that's half of what makes things interesting!

I'm a little put off now I know the play is based on the telemovie- that suggests to me that it might not work all that well as a play!

I like Evelyn Waugh very much and second the recommendation to Tim

TimT said...

I enjoyed Vile Bodies very much when I read it at uni but have not been able to re-read it since: much alas! I have since tackled three other Waugh books - 'The Loved One', 'Brideshead Revisited' and another whose name escapes me. I enjoyed them all, although I would definitely rank Vile Bodies as the best of all. Brideshead was charming but after the first hundred pages the weary melancholia gets very tiring.

I currently have on my shelf a book by Auberon Waugh that needs to be read!

By the way, I ended up purchasing the Arabian Nights two weeks ago. You will undoubtedly be disappointed to know that they are a mere translation in English from a French translation from the original Arabic, and thus exist at several degrees of separation from any 'authentic' Arabian Nights author. But I don't care! I'm just so glad to finally own all the Arabian Nights!

Karen said...

Oh, I'm not that scary and snooty at all! I certainly hope I don't come across that way. It sounds like you've got the Grub St translation from Galland's French edition. The AN has a very chequered textual history, in any case. Many of the more famous stories (for example, Aladdin and Sinbad) were actually made up by Galland and have no original source at all.

TimT said...

'Rendered into English from the literal and complete French translation off Dr J C Mardrus by Powys Mathers.'

No, no, you don't come across as aloof at all. I was actually a little disappointed to discover it wasn't Burton, but as you say, chequered history. I love the way stories can be added in like that, as the 'book' gets older.

Karen said...

That's a 1923 English translation of a 1900-1904 French edition, which is based on an Arabic text (unspecified in the bibliographic record I've got) and not on Galland. This is me getting obsessive compulsive! I've got two selections from Burton, but they're not the same selections, so you can't have one- sorry! A.S. Byatt has a selection from Burton in Penguin or Oxford World's Classics, I think.

Aloof is exactly what I am, but I'd hate to think that it seemed like I was thus for reasons of snobbery or because I judge the world harshly.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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