The reason I want to be able to work is that things don't hurt me when I'm working. Most efficient override known to man.
Finally getting to Marguerite Yourcenar's The Dark Brain of Piranesi. Essays from forty or fifty years ago. It gives me fantoddy cultural claustrophobia.
I mean, Yourcenar was fairly cosmopolitan for her time, but she writes in the long classical tradition of 'western civilization' where anything eastern is slightly suspect. She may not accept the idea at all but it's inherent either in her vocabulary or in her translator's- and I fancy it's hers because the translation contains recondite terms that aren't found in any English I've ever come across. The antsiness towards the Orient (by which is meant the middle east more than the far) goes all the way back to Roman invectives against those awful decadent mystery religions from the East, (Christianity among them.) Because Yourcenar knows her classics, as one did in the grand western tradition, it shows: implicit in her mentions of things eastern- even if it's just Poland- is an image of something chaotic and confusing, but also formal and minute to the point of immobility: twining, labyrinthine, heavy; Dionysiac and not Apollonian. Not Greek and not Enlightenment, whatever.
I know that one. I grew up on it. One might dismiss it, except--
---it's not just the Orient. Her first chapters deal with the historical chronicle of the later emperors, the period Rome's decline, and then with 16th and 17th century French history, the period of the religious wars: both removed from the 'high points' of their respective cultures. And here also is the image of a thing chaotic and confusing, twining, labyrinthine, and unbearably savage in its activities, whether animal massacres in the coliseum or the burning of heretics. (Yourcenar weeps for the poor animals brought from Africa to be killed by Romans and doesn't even mention the poor gladiators brought from everywhere ditto.) Dionysiac and not Apollonian 's' us. This is followed by the long essay on Piranesi's prisons, exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to come out of the civilization and-I-use-the-word-loosely described in the earlier chapters.
So yeah- Yourcenar's version of civilization gives me a case of claustrophobia: and it doesn't ease off at all when she starts talking about Salma Lagerlof. One expects to find cold clarity in Scandinavia, and instead is given a twilight or nighttime world of a rigid society, a narrow religion, a hard earth-based farmer's life backgrounded by the chaotic forces of the- well, not-human not-religious Pagan world that waits Out There: "cosmic, elementary, in the literal sense of the word; benign or terrible presences irreducible to the human order and surrounding us on all sides."
I suppose I must finish this, though at the moment she's doing a number on Cavafy, poor man.