is it not life, is is not the thing?

My house is full of books by people I know. Al sent me a copy of his play Melonfarmer, Salome lent me Eben’s mother’s book The Trauma of Gender, and I bought After Long Silence, by the brilliant and discerning Helen Fremont, as a gift for myself, how festive.

But I haven’t read any of them yet. Except for a couple of restorative side-trips into Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and Trollope’s Autobiography, I’ve been hard at work on Roy Jenkins’ barnstorming Churchill for more than six weeks. Longtime readers may remember it as the book that sent me into a deep blue funk over my failure to become a senior cabinet minister at 32. In fact Churchill’s greatest achievements, for which his earlier life can be seen as a series of elaborate preparations, came after his 67th birthday, a far more cheering prospect for your average ageing wunderkind, ie me.

Churchill was, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, an extraordinary man – Shakespearean in his effortless combination of power and charisma and insight and courage and dedication with utter, unforgivable stupidity on a handful of key points, such as, oh I don’t know, say India? Turkey?

My pet theory of geopolitics states that wherever you see a straight line on a map, it’s the bloody legacy of well-meaning but inept European post-imperialists carving up what they can never hope to understand, Stoppard’s conspiracy of cartographers, the rabbit-proof fence extending over the sand dunes and out of sight.

A straight line on a map represents a catastrophic failure of the imagination. The rough equivalent in technology is the network cloud; in science, it’s the subject of Sid Harris’ funniest cartoon, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

As a rule, ho ho, oversimplification is the tombstone of thought. God and the devil both dwell in the details, chuckling together over bone-dry martinis. As Byron said of his sprawling, messy poem Don Juan: “confess that it is the sublime of that there sort of writing; it may be bawdy, but is it not good English? It may be profligate, but is it not life, is it not the thing?”

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