Saturday, November 20, 2004

Scopes Link

I first thought the mention of the Scopes trial on page 36 "...the consternation which descended upon the questioner was only equaled in that household by her reception of the news of the Scopes trial in distant Tennessee." was merely a contextual marker to tell us that it was now 1925.

Interestingly though, the Scopes trial was a bit of a farce (I knew about Scopes in name only "Clarence Darrow for the defense.")

From the Wikipedia article on the Scopes Trial:

At issue was the Butler Act, which had been passed a few months earlier. In its preface, it described itself as "An act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof."

The American Civil Liberties Union had offered to defend anyone accused of teaching evolution in defiance of the law. The leaders of Dayton, Tennessee, then a town of less than 3,000, thought that the controversy of such a trial would put Dayton on the map. They asked a 24-year-old science teacher and athletic coach named John T. Scopes, who agreed. The original prosecutors were his friends Grant and Sue Hicks.


I don't mean to say this is significant in terms of the overall novel, but just one more fun layer of allusions that WG has dropped in to keep us busy (reading other things than his novel). :)


p.s. I am now kicking myself, because I recently boxed up my copy of Berger's "Way of Seeing."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Weekend Reading

Going into our second week of the Gaddis-travaganza, I'd like to point everyone to a moldy but still great classic, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." This essay was originally written in 1935 by Walter Benjamin, and can now be found in the collection Illuminations. You can also find many of the same ideas, and a modern twist, in the opening essay of John Berger's Ways of Seeing.

So what is this all about and why should you, as a reader of TR, care? First off, TR is all about art and originality, and reproducing great works of art. Now in Gaddis's (and our) time, people could have reproductions of great works of art for a fraction of the price, yet the original was what everyone wanted. Why? Why pay millions for the original if you could just have a copy on the cheap? I'll quote John Berger for the answer:

The bogus religiosity which now surrounds original works of art, and which is ultimately dependent upon their market value, has become the substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them reproducable.

Note the use of religiosity. In effect, Berger is saying that if anyone could have a reproduction of Van Gogh's work, then there's on need to own the original. In order to keep the original from losing its specialness, people established this cult of the original, this religious fervor. Not only that, but this new creation supplanted the mysterious seductive capacity that paintings originally carried when there were no reproductions.

Berger also says the ability to reproduce paintings has consequences for what they mean:
In the age of pictorial reproduction the meaning of paintings is no longer attached to them; their meaning becomes transmittable: that is to say it becomes information of a sort.

In other words, paintings can be put into advertisements and used to indicate how tasty a cigarette is. Just like any other sign, paintings can be strewn around and used as language. This could not be done when there was only one copy of each work, and this too has had consequences for the way art is seen and interpreted.

Now, since our protagonist, good old Wyatt, is an artist who we know will make forgeries, and who struggles with the concepts of the value of art (monetary and otherwise) and art's menaing, I hasten to guess that Gaddis read Benjamin and incorporated some of his thoughts into TR.

These two quotes from Berger are good starting points, and they get across the general thrust of what he and Benjamin are talking about, but you should go back to the source and have a read for yourself. I promise you will see TR in a new light.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tossing in Some More Early Thoughts

I don't have much to add to the preceding conversation, so I thought I would add something of my own. I have not finished the entire first section, but I am soaking it up, re-reading passages and enjoying the tangents that thoughts or notes take me.

I am really taken by the event on page 25 when Gwyon buys the Bosch table:


A large low table appeared under the window in the dining room. It was the prize of this incipient collection, priceless, although a price had been settled which Gwyon paid without question to the old Italian grandee who offered it sadly and in secret. This table top was the original (though some fainaiguing had been necessary at Italian customs, confirming it a fake to get it out of the country), a painting by Hieronymus Bosch portraying the Seven Deadly Sins in medieval (meddy-evil, the Reverend pronounced it, an unholy light in his eyes) indulgence. Under the glass which covered it, Christ stood with one maimed hand upraised, beneath him in rubrics, Cave, Cave, D8 videt...




Cave, Cave, D8 videt..., Beware, Beware, the Lord Sees.

Wyatt is found on page 30, eating at that table “Unlike children who are encouraged to down their food by the familiar spoon-scraped prize of happy animals cartooned on the bottom of the dish, Wyatt hurried through every drab meal to meet a Deadly Sin...”

and repeating the words “After he had been told the meaning of the rubric, he could be heard muttering in those dark hallways, -Cave, cave, Dominus videt.”

From the Zeidler essay, linked to in the annotations, we know that,

even though “It is very unlikely that the Madrid tabletop has been used as a table:  it would have been too easily damaged.”

Wyatt, a child is allowed, perhaps made, to eat at it. It’s by the window, so he can’t walk around it, but the table was:

...not only meant to be looked at but also meant to be walked around: walking around the table enables viewers to take in each of the seven scenes, but at the same time he or she loses sight of the four Last Things in the four corners of the painting, as well as the two inscriptions on the banderoles ("They are a nation void of sense; there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern what the end would be" [Deuteronomy 32:28-29], and: "I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be" [32:20]) and the "Cave, Cave, Dominus Vide" (Beware, beware, the Lord sees) beneath Christ as the man of sorrows in the center. Standing in front of the painting one faces God, one faces eternity, walking around it one enters the world of transience.


I think the table passage on 25 is important. First, “Bosch's work was very popular in the 16th century, was widely copied, imitated, and forged.” Knowing in advance that forgery is a theme and we’ve encountered “Dr. Sinisterra” already, the fact that the table, which according to the annotations will have been found to not be a fake later in the book, represents the idea that it is sometimes the fakes (and perhaps the fakers) that are real and they are only fake in response to an unreasonable (subjectively) society.

I’m not sure what to make of Wyatt’s behavior in regard to the table, but all of his behavior seems to be a response to the unreasonable world he is forced to deal with. Aunt May accuses him already of telling lies, but it is she that is the true faker (do I have to prove that statement?).


From the annotations I found that Gaddis was a T.S. Eliot fan and planned to incorporate every line from “Four Quartets” into the book. That in itself is interesting, but I went back and re-read FQ and found this passage from “East Coker” lines, 75 - 90:



And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us

Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,

Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,

The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets

Useless in the darkness into which they peered

Or from which they turned their eyes, There is, it seems to

   us,

At best, only a limited value

In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived

Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm...



Sounds like an outline for this novel (at least, so far). There seems to be a theme of elders competing for the right version of the world to hand to Wyatt, between the Town Carpenter (in a book such as this, shouldn’t we suspect a Carpenter [sic on the uppercase] to be The Carpenter?), Gwyon and Aunt May. I imagine he makes up his own.

So these are thoughts or points of departure rather than statements or conclusion, the sort of thing that, if weren’t for the Gaddis-Drinking-Club, would probably remain in my head, churning around, or scribbled in the margins of the book or a notebook.

Stuff to Ponder

I won't be able to check in on the mayhem till later, so drink and chat you East Coasters. And while you do so, ponder these:

pg. 16: What's the deal with Spain being Hercules holding the U.S. (Antaeus) in the air? "Spain is still on the earth and we, in our country, we are being crushed in the air."

pg. 23: Referring to Rev G. after he has returned to America and resumed his pulpit: "He strayed far from his continent, and spent late hours of the night participating in dark practices from Borneo to Assam." Why does Rev G. turn to other religions? A loss of faith after the death of his wife? A disgust with the rigidity of Christianity, as it is practiced in his parish?

pg. 33: Aunt May presents creativity as the work of God and God alone. Any humans who would be creative are presumptuous and sinful. "Among provinces where He retained sway was that of creativity; and mortal creative work was definitely one of His damnedest things."

  • Further, on page 34, Lucifer is characterized as "falsify[ing] something in the divine order" and "steal[ing] the power of Our Lord . . . to bring his own light to man."
  • Also, even among its enthusiasts, creativity in TR is portrayed as a double-bladed sword.

pg. 45: Speaking of Wyatt: "The congregation breathed out stale prayers for the boy's recovery. But in the end they always gave their God full leave to do as He wished . . . loading the fever-stricken boy with the guilt it had taken them generations to accumulate." Wyatt is made the congregation's scapegoat, but then Rev G. makes his monkey, Heracles (the Greek name of the Latin Hercules), the scapegoat for Wyatt's illness.

pg. 60: What about Camilla and the portrait Wyatt is painting? Rev G says: "You must finish it, you must try to finish it . . . finish it, or she will be with you . . . She will be with you always." In what ways can Camilla be with Wyatt (she died before he even knew her)? What do we even know of her?


Talk Here (Part 1 Chapter 1)

I'm finding it hard to come up with any general discussion point at this time. This first chapter feels so much like a prologue, a lot of set-up for the future, the ideas that aren't yet developed.


So, let's just have a free-for-all. Perhaps we can address an questions, share opinions, and any other commentary anyone has.


I think as the we progress through the novel there will be more room for discussion.

the Spell of the Spurious

Thoroughly enjoying the postings but my progress, per drinking (none) and reading (very little Chapter II) have been hampered by a headcold. I recall an interview with Eco in Bookforum which coincided with the publication of Serendipities, it was also a thrust at first world uniltaeralism by They-Which-Won't-Be-Named. Baulodino was thoroughly enjoyed, at least the first half, and the Rake's depiction of the essays is equally charming. ciao - jon

Bookkeeping: Thoughts on tonight

Do y'all still want to have a discussion night? My thinking was that Derik, as this week's chapter leader, would post a conversation starter and we would all get down in the comments beneath his question, which would corral the conversation some and allow readers who aren't also posters to take part in the discussion. In the meantime, GDC posters who have other drunken inspiration that's off the proposed topic would, of course, be free to post whatever pleases them on the wall and we can wander into those comments boxes as well.

Thoughts? I think we were suggesting a start time later in the evening, to allow the other time zones to join in.


And now for something completely different...

Ah, good to see so many here with their critical apparatuses functioning. I hope to be able to say something insightful as we proceed, but for right now, I'm just enjoying stuff like this way too much:

So came the money in Gwyon's family: since he disapproved of table delicacies, an earlier Gwyon had set up an oatmeal factory and done quite well. Since his descendents disapproved of almost everything else except compound interest, the fortune had grown near immodest proportions, only now being whittled down to size. (p. 14)


Pardon me while I laugh like an idiot (which could also be the fault of the bourbon, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-Year Lot B, in case you're wondering).

But bear with me: after reading about the Town Carpenter telling young Wyatt stories of "figures like Kublai Khan, Tamerlane, and Prester John" (p. 31), I remembered a nifty little book called Serendipities, by Umberto Eco, which might be an interesting adjunct to TR, given that (as the jacket copy sez) it examines "layers of mistakes that have shaped human history."

Specifically, I'm thinking of the first essay in the book, titled "The Force of Falsity." Eco sez:

At this point, it can be said that, over the course of history, beliefs and affirmations that today's encyclopedia categorically denies have been given credence and indeed believed so completely as to subjugate the learned, generate and destroy empires, inspire poets (not always witnesses to the truth), and drive human beings to heroic sacrifices, intolerance, massacre, the quest for knowledge. If this is true, how can we not assert that a Force of the False exists?


(I'm just going to whistle past the graveyard on how this applies to current affairs.)

Anyway, here's part of the Prester John section of the essay, upon which my tenuous connection-making exists:

In the second half of the twelfth century a letter arrived in the West, telling how in the far-off East, beyond the regions occupied by the Mussulmen, beyond those lands the crusaders had tried to wrest from the dominion of the infidel only to see them returned to that same rule, there was a flourishing Christian region governed by a legendary priest John, or Presbyter Johannes, or Prester John....

[...Eco quotes letter at length, here's a site with a different but similar version]

In the course of the following centuries--until the seventeenth--translated and paraphrased many times into various languages and versions, the letter had a decisive importance in the expansion of the Christian West toward the Orient. The idea that beyond the Moslem territories there could be a Christian kingdom justified all ventures of expansion and exploration.

[...]

Where did Prester John's letter come from? What was its purpose? Perhaps it was a document of anti-Byzantine propaganda, produced in the scriptoria of Frederick I. But the problem is not so much its origin (fakes of every description were abundant at that time) as its reception. The geographical fantasy gradually generated a political project. In other words, the phantom called up by some scribe with a knack for counterfeiting documents (a highly respected literary activity of the period) served as an alibi for the expansion of the Christian world toward Africa and Asia, a welcome argument favoring the white man's burden.


Interesting, no? I'm not sure how much resonance this has (or might have, going forward in the book), but I find Eco's essay mighty intriguing, especially now that we have the topics of copies and forgeries (the Force of the False) in the forefront.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My Take -- A Continuation of Derik's Notes

A few thoughts and ideas to churn up some talk. Thanks to Derik's post for getting me started on some of these:

* Camilla has only played the tiniest role thus far, but I feel certain that she has large symbolic importance. Especially since she is the subject of Wyatt's unfinished painting, one of the few things he takes with him to France. I'm curious as to what Camilla, her odd death at sea, and her burial in Spain (and the controversey surrounding it) can mean to this book.

* Another in conjunction with Camilla. Her painting seems likely to remain unfinished for some time (perhaps the entire book?). In this light, this quote from Derik's post is interesting: "There's something about a. . . an unfinished piece of work, a . . . a thing like this where . . . do you see? Where perfection is still possible?"

* On page 13, Gaddis talk about "lives conceived in guilt and perpetuated in refusal." This sounds like a terribly portentuous quote, but I'll admit I don't have much idea what it means, or the context in which we should think about it. It this a stab at the Church? The father-son relationship? An artist's burden?

Calling all readers...

Surely, some of you must have finished the chapter?

Are you finding it tough going? Don't worry too much about trying to get everything. The annotations are a great help, but you can get a lot out of the novel without them. It may be tough, but it's still a fun book (Well, I think so). Part of the utility of discussing is that you don't have to completely get it all right away.

Rah rah. Go team!

Unswerving Punctuality of Chance

"Opening one of Nietzsche's books at random, you have the almost novel experience of not continuing on by way of interiority." -- Deleuze

Being the novice, I will stab at brevity. D's post was elucidating, as is the annotated guide thereto. It is only espresso fuelling this post, but it was the apt-named Avery Reverend barleywine which so helpful last evening. Detritus from such aside, I see hints of a continium between counterfeiters and the mounds of Gwyon's textual authority, not the monolith that compells May in her quotidian trials, but a bulge of possibility. That said, the circumstances of Wyatt's infirmity and recovery were quite dense and I thought the text at large appeared to flow untethered once May passed on. Thanks again for the opportunity to participate. Sorry, everytime Harold Bloom surfaces in the ether the spectre of Naomi Wolf is not far away. ciao - jon

Monday, November 15, 2004

Part I Chapter I, p. 3-62

(Though I'm going first, I don't want people to take my attempt here as a model for future discussion. I'm a rather haphazard thinker, so I tend to throw things out as I come upon them or as they occur to me. I didn't want to spend too much time on summary, as I think the Annotations do a fine job with that. Mostly I just want to point out things that interested me, that seem important, or amusing, etc.

Since I've read the book before and have read a good bit of the critical apparatus, I'm going to end up pointing out things that might not be relevant until later in the book. Repetitions that I am noticing, clues to future happenings and such. I hope that is okay for everything. I'd rather not work under the "spoiler" stricture, but I'll also try to refrain from being too explicit about future plot.

As for how the actual discussion will go, I guess we figure that out as we go along.)

Summary:

Sometime after WWI, Reverend Gwyon (a protestant/calvinist)'s wife, Camilla, dies on a trip to Spain aboard ship. Frank Sinisterra, a counterfeiter who disguised himself as ship's surgeon, is forced to operate on Camilla when she is struck with appendicitis and causes her death. In Spain, Gwyon has his wife's body interned in a walled space with a Catholic burial. After some time in Europe in a less than lucid state, Gwyon returns to his parish where his sister, Aunt May, and his son, Wyatt, await him.

May is strict in her religious observance and dismayed both by Wyatt's lack of religiosity (it is planned he will follow the family tradition and become a reverend) and Gwyon's straying from orthodoxy in his study of other religions, mythology, etc. Wyatt begins to draw and paint, mostly copying works (such as the table his father brought back from Italy, Bosch's Seven Deadly Sins), and leaving original works uncompleted (such as a portrait of his mother).

Wyatt gets sick and after much time the doctor's send him home, unable to help. Desperate to help his son, Gwyon uses a ritual found in one of his book to put the sickness into a scape goat, in this case Heracles the Barbary ape he brought back from his trip.

Wyatt gets better, goes off to seminary, but eventually runs off to Germany to pursue his art. (His father discovers this only after receiving a letter from that other country.)

Gwyon continues his reading and his sermons are ever more wrapped in the varieties of religions and myths in the world (he states that Mithraism failed because it was too good).


Comments:

I consider this chapter a bit of a prologue. The chapter sets up our main character (Wyatt), his background, and some of the main themes of the novel. Not for the first time we see a number of years pass over the course of a few pages.

Right from the start we have the idea of a masquerade, disguise, dissimulation, all quite important to the novel. In a masquerade there is the opportunity for getting behind the disguise, a recognition of what is hidden.

On the first page Wyatt is obliquely referred to: "Aunt May was his father's sister..." (3, emphasis mine) but not specifically named (or really mentioned again) until page 18. This type of appearance will be rather typical of Wyatt in later parts of the book.

Early in we are also introduced to two preoccupations: forgery and art. Sinisterra in his forgery of bank notes used "Rembrandt's formula for the wax ground on his copper plate" (5).

A dark humour is evident often in this chapter (and throughout). A favorite of mine being the ship insured against all but "acts of god" and then "God boarded the Purdue Victory and acted" (4).

Gaddis's interest in religion and myth is prominent throughout the chapter (I love Fr. Eulalio who had "unchristian pride" for having all five vowels in his name), as well as his rather negative view of the religiose and the church. Much of the humor is reserved for religion and the religious.

I noticed a number of references to "chance" (pages 3 ("had finally given chance the field necessary to its operation"), 5 ("Chance had played against him"), and 9 ("unswerving punctuality of chance") for starters).

Camilla is often referenced in connection to goddesses, white, and the moon (obvious connections to Graves' "The White Goddess"), such as at the bottom of page 14 into 15 ("remontant goddess"). At the bottom of page 11, Gwyon is "wakened suddenly by the hand of his wife," he goes to the window, and then "There was the moon, reaching a still arm behind him to the bed where he had lain." This gets echoed in Wyatt's vision of his mother and the etheral unfinished painting.

A use of the word "recognitions" that is also quite amusing. Regarding the "Town Carpenter" Wyatt's grandfather (Camilla's father): "It was in the Depot Tavern that he received condolences, accepted funerary offers of drink, and, when these recognitions were exhausted, he sank into the habit of talking familliarly about persons and places unknown to his cronies, so that several of them suspected him of reading." (22)

The idea of the scape goat comes up a few times, most notably with the sacrifice of the ape Heracles, but Gwyon also mentions it in relation to Christianity ("The great satisfaction of seeing someone else punished for a deed of which we know ourselves capable." (24))

"To sin is to falsify something in the Divine Order..." (34)

Wyatt: "There's something about a. . . an unfinished piece of work, a . . . a thing like this where . . . do you see? Where perfection is still possible? Because it's there, it's there all the time, all the time you work trying to uncover it." (57)

A few things with future recurrence in the novel: the crossed-eyed girl in the white stockings, the story about the sky as a sea and the anchor stuck on a tombstone, and the Bosch table.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bud's self-censoring (which Gaddis might aver is better than self-censering); CAAF in violent need of the OED

Over at Chekhov’s Mistress, Bud shares some preliminary thoughts on this first section of T.R. (or as I’m thinking of it, T. Recs.). In a parenthetical he wonders about any allusions packed into Doctor Sinisterra’s name: “(Sinister? No land?)”

I’m wondering too, and guessing Bud’s nailed it. OurWebster’s Third glosses “sinister” as “left, on the left side, awkward, injurious, evil, unlucky, inauspicious." The shift from “ter” to “terra”, or “[no] land,” for a fraudulent shipboard doctor adds a nice second layer.

This website page looks at the etymology of “sinister” in terms of the “basis these terms have in materialism, pre-religious fear and the dogma that resulted from prehistorical sun worship.” Any other thoughts from the etymologists among us obvs. welcome.

Gaddis and Religion

I'm through two-thirds of the opening chapter, and I'm reminded of a short book I picked up a couple of years ago called The Writer and Religion. Published in 2000, it collects the proceedings of a conference by the same name held in 1994 at Washington University in St. Louis, William H. Gass' home turf. The book is edited by Gass and Lorin Cuoco and consists of seven main presentations related to the topic (by Gass, Eavan Boland, Gaddis, A. G. Mojtabai, Amitav Ghosh, Hanan al-Shaykh, and J.M. Coetzee), each followed by a panel discussion and audience questions. I found it to be an interesting collection, though my memory of the whole thing is not incredibly clear. I re-read the Gaddis and Coetzee essays this morning. Gaddis' is titled "Old Foes with New Faces" and is also included in his posthumous non-fiction collection, The Rush For Second Place. His hostility towards religion, Christianity in particular, is, as usual, unmistakable, even (especially?) under the cover of an olive branch:

Considering the enormity of this enterprise, I will narrow the focus of my remarks to my own pursuits. By writers, I assume we mean writers of fiction. By religion, I’m referring to the one I have barked my shin against over half a century in one or another of its avatars, to borrow an epithet, as Christianity itself has never hesitated to do when it has served its purposes.

Rather than initiate our undertaking with a confrontation, however—I am sure there will be plenty of those—I propose to extend a hand of fellowship from the criterion central to both: that which constitutes poetic faith for the writer in Coleridge’s familiar “willing suspension of disbelief” and, for the religionist, the leap of faith enshrined in the misquoted words of Tertullian via St. Augustine, “Credo quia absurdum.”

In other words, we are all in the same line of business: that of concocting, arranging, and peddling fictions to get us safely through the night.

Then, he touches briefly on drinking, a subject near and dear to a certain club:

Certainly an enhanced capacity for self-delusion is a valuable attribute for the writer, both in nurturing his fictional characters and often enough his own. Thus, it is hardly surprising to find this capacity to be fueled frequently by an equally large appetite for strong drink, with the majority of America’s native-born Nobel Prize winners in literature being confirmed alcoholics as testimony.

Before drawing further (no doubt unwelcome) comparison to aspects of the Christian faith...

We may even go so far as to find a parallel in Alfred North Whitehead’s reference to “the use of wine in the Communion service,” which is “a relic of the religious awe at intoxication,” itself, at all odds, a relic of the drunken license turned loose at pagan saturnalias of a still earlier time where, habit breeding expectation, promiscuous intercourse provided plentiful material for the marvels of virgin birth that followed.

Later, after recounting some familiar statistics concerning Americans and religious belief, he gets in another zinger:

Outnumbering supporters of reincarnation by three to one, almost three quarters opt for a heaven where good lives on earth will be eternally rewarded, with more than half basking in the company of God and Jesus, but fewer than half with that of friends, relatives, and spouses. Oddly enough under these circumstances, only 5 percent expect eternity to be boring.

Also, here are a couple of non-Gaddis passages that struck me as relevant to the character of Aunt May and the humorless and harsh Protestant Christianity practiced (and imposed) by her. First, from Coetzee's essay (which is quite good, and itself was reprinted in the collection Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship.):

…it is a feature of the paranoid logic of the censoring mentality that virtue, as virtue, must be innocent and therefore vulnerable to the wiles of vice unless protected.

Second, moving away from the book, I don't know if anyone else here is into old-time folk music, or, say, the Carter Family, but, as I was reading about Aunt May, I couldn't help but be reminded of John Fahey's liner notes to Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four:

While there is nothing new in the variety and type of songs by the Carter Family on Volume 4, there is nevertheless a new element: old age, decline and death. The group sounds old; indeed on “No Depression In Heaven” they sound like they have several feet in the grave. There had always been a morbid element in the singing of the Carter Family. A good example is “The Wild Western Hobo,” who, we are told, is “going to have lots of fun.” Yet the Carters sound as if their idea of fun is having teeth pulled. The Carter Family refused throughout their career to sound happy—they even refused to sound neutral. No, in accordance with the religious zeitgeist, The Code of the Hills, as Al Kapp called it, one must have: 1) a deprecatory view of life on Earth, i.e., that it is a veil of tears. Indeed, their big hit, “Keep On The Sunny Side,” sounds like a cry for help from some very unhappy folks who are sliding down the slippery slope of Protestant unworldliness and predestined gloom; and 2) an insistence on adhering to the amusing local practice of refusing to refer to a body part—or even to pronounce any syllable which named a body part. This was widespread practice in the South. Even in Washington DC where I was brought up, I was taught that the correct pronunciation of “chimney” was “chimley,” but I was never told why. Shortly before my time, places like Assategue and Assawoman were called “Rumpategue” and “Rumpawoman.”

Others may have more immediate or personal experience with this, but it is completely alien to me, not to mention fascinating.