Did he mean three C’s? Cryptic, complex, complicated? Perhaps he meant ‘esoteric” as Delphic, meaning enigmatic.

I would disagree, of course! I thought my words on “mono” were timely, especially given that the FBI’s raid on DT’s castle happened after I wrote the blog. Simply stated, Deposed King Donald may not keep documents that belong to the U.S. Government and its National Archives.

I think it’s a safe bet that our ex-president, who lost the election, has never heard of Julian the Apostate. I knew the name but little else about this historical figure until I read Elizabeth Finch, a new fact-fiction novel by Julian Barnes. I am going to ‘borrow” words from pages 95 & 96 to give an idea of narrator Neil’s voice in the novel’s middle section. This is where Neil writes a long essay based on notes inherited from his beloved teacher, Elizabeth Finch, about Julian the Apostate, who died in AD 363 in the Persian desert.

“(From his supporters down the centuries, Julian was that seductive thing: a Lost Leader. What if he had ruled for another thirty years, marginalizing Christianity year by year, and gently, then forcibly, recementing the polytheism of Greece and Rome? And what if the policy was pursued by his successors down the centuries? What then? Perhaps no need for a Renaissance, since the old Graeco-Roman ways would be intact, and the great scholarly libraries undestroyed. Perhaps no need for an Enlightenment because much of it would already have happened. The age-long moral and social distortions imposed by a vastly powerful state religion would have been avoided. By the time the Age of Reason came around, we would already have been living in it for fourteen centuries. And those surviving Christian priests with their peculiar, eccentric but harmless beliefs…would rub shoulders on equal terms with pagans and druids and spoon-benders and tree-worshippers and Jews and Muslims and so on and so on, all under the benign and tolerant protection of whatever European Hellenism developed into. Imagine the last fifteen centuries without religious wars, perhaps without religious or even racial intolerance. Imagine science unhindered by religion. Delete all those missionaries, forcing belief on indigenous people while accompanying soldiers stole their gold. Imagine the intellectual victory of what most Hellenists believed—that if there was any joy to be had in life, it was in this brief sublunary passage of ours, not in some absurd Disneyfied heaven after we are dead.” Neil the narrator goes on to say:

“Of course, such alternative history is just as much a fantasy as the Christian heaven. As Elizabeth Finch would have been the first to point out, we have to deal with the crooked timber of humanity. Unreason and greed and self-interest: can they be bred out of humanity?....I wish I had been able to discuss all this with Elizabeth Finch….How much I still miss her.)”

Barnes has written a paean, an accolade, a tribute to a teacher. If I’m to believe reviewers, he is in spirit honoring Anita Brookner, a British writer and good friend, who died in 2016.

Please take a moment… and recall a teacher or instructor who has had a powerful influence on your life. Next week I will write about Dr. Robert Coles, whose influence on me began in the 1970s and continues today.

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Why mono? Because it is an important word for Elizabeth Finch. She’s a lecturer extraordinaire in the latest novel by Julian Barnes. In fall 2019 I taught a course on this British writer. But that was before I began posting a page a week on Literature I’ve Loved (and love).

This afternoon, scanning seven large pages of my unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, I counted over 220 words that begin with mono. I did not, however, count the long column of words beneath the singular, mono.

Back when I taught high school English in the 1970s, I often gave students a list of vocabulary words and assigned a piece of writing that required using all of them. So, just now I decided to do this for some words that begin with mono. Here I go!

Will the monoglot who bears the initials, DT, ever disappear?

Dear Divinity in some intelligent place, tell me how to withstand the monotony (not to mention the pain) of this monomaniac’s monosyllabic monologues? DT promises a monocracy for mono-culturists who wear red caps (favorite color of the big D) and yell about makin’ America great ‘agin’. Meanwhile the lardaceous monocular DT claps his greasy hands, which are an effect of his monophasy (burger only diet). And this because he awarded a popular franchise a monopoly over his gut.

Now, what would Elizabeth Finch tell the monocrat? That shifting multiplicities define culture and civilizations. So… keep to your monorail, which hopefully leads to prison, where you will be “saddled with your body to the last corn, cataract, and bunion.” (Thank you, Julian, for this final phrase.)

EF, as I will call her, knew lives contain clutter, which needs to be expunged so that you and I can again see more clearly. Expunge! Don’t you love this word? To bring to an end: quash, quell, squelch, crush, vanquish, squash!

Next week I promise to discuss polyglot Julian’s new fact-fiction novel, Elizabeth Finch. A third of it is about Julian the Apostate, the last emperor of Rome, killed in the Persian desert in 365 A.D. What did this mean? The defeat of polytheistic Hellenism and the triumph of monotheistic Christianity. Ms. Finch tells her adult students, one of whom is narrator Neil, that “some might conclude this (triumph) was a bad idea.”

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Now a leap from the beginning to the last paragraph of chapter 35, four pages from the end of Salter’s novel.

This passage below describes an experience common to us: of being in a plane, awaiting takeoff. Read the words slowly, savor Salter’s sentences & fragments, see and hear the balance in the prose. Notice the movement of past to present tense, and when the narrative voice edges from third to first person. Understand this “I” is not on board with Dean. For 185 pages this narrator remains unnamed, a benevolent voyeur. We know his profession is photography and his age 34. We also know he has not found the woman or the man he yearns to love.

“Before he (Dean) boarded, the sun was already low at Orly. Almost no wind. A vast, malicious calm. In the distance, blue as winter, the dim roofs of the city. Smoke. The east growing dark. Aboard the plane all is brilliance. Dean sits at the window as they move, in the stillness of evening, towards the runway, the great tires bumping over the concrete joints. The seat-belt signs are lighted. The No Smoking is on. All of a sudden my imagination begins to panic, to rush from one thing to another. I have followed him so long I am sensitive to dangers. They turn smoothly into the direction for takeoff. All the perfect machinery of flight is beginning its motion. The huge, graceful wings are quivering. The engines roar. And now, at the last moment, it begins to move, slowly, with a majesty I cannot bear, for a long time seeming to go no faster until suddenly it is racing past, raising, clearing the ground. It climbs steeply. The soft darkness of the summer sky receives it. The lights grow fainter, the sound, and finally all of France, invisible now, silent, the France of all seasons deep in the silence of night, is left behind.”

Between the first page and this one when Dean leaves France, what did this reader experience? A haunting menage a trois. Not splendor in the grass but in endless rooms… for Dean, a Yale dropout, and the French girl, Anne-Marie, in the region of Burgundy, with the story told in the present tense by the narrator. How is this possible? Writer Reynolds Price, according to the introduction, has read A Sport and a Pastime over and over, trying to understand the mysteries of a story of “inexhaustible complexity and enduring richness.”

Who is this narrator that admits, “I am not telling the truth about Dean. I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that.” The narrator tells us his “dreams are as important as anything I acquired by stealth. More important because they are the intuitive in its purest state. Without them, facts are no more than a kind of debris, unstrung, like beads.” Earlier the narrator tells us that he remembers certain things exactly as they were, discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. “The myriad past, it enters us and disappears,” he says. “Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed. Sifting through, if one dares, and collecting them, one discovers the true design.”

And that design, that structure, along with Salter’s luminous prose left contrails in my aging mind. Lubrica y pura, licentious and pure: A Sport and a Pastime by the late, great James Salter.

Next week: That is to be determined!

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