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La douceur de vivre

There's a line in David Denby's piece about Susan Sontag in the current New Yorker that stung like lightning when I read it. It's still vibrating.

The period of Sontag's first essays—the early sixties, before Pop became omnivorous and Vietnam obsessed everybody—was surely the last earnest moment in American culture.

Boy, is that true. It was in the early Sixties that I woke up to the fine arts. Sure, I was a self-indulgent teenager, but when did that ever stop anybody from becoming a prig? Naturally comfortable with Bach and Handel, and with the art of the fifteenth century, I rejected all contact with what would come to be called popular culture. I made lists of works of art that people talked about in print, and forced myself to confront things that, in most cases, I didn't like at all. Not liking them wasn't a problem; nor was the hypocrisy of pretending to like them. Because when it was all over, that awful adolescence, I was armed with a reliable geography of the possibilities. If I hated Ravel (something about Daphnis and Chloe), well, at least I knew who he was and something of what he'd written; and when did I fall for Ravel, at the age of twenty-four, I fell completely. That's why I've called one of my blogs Good For You. It was just like medicine - and it was good for me.

In the early Sixties, there was a feeling in the air that, if you were bright and serious, then you had a responsibility to learn about certain things whether you wanted to or not. I held onto that creed until quite recently, when I realized that my remaining time on earth would be better spent in multiplying the connections between things that I already know and love than in working on acquired tastes. It's a question of mortality, not aesthetics. And I'm sure that many tastes will lure me into acquiring them. They will just have to work a little harder.

Although I was never amenable to modernism, I miss being obliged to understand Susan Sontag. Those who never tasted the light-hearted cultural gravitas of the early Sixties don't know the sweetness of life.


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Is the caption a reference to the cynical, tragic character in The Web and the Rock who holds court among a group of young Southerners in NYC, often referring to "the essential sweetness of life", and ultimately kills himself?

No, it's Talleyrand. "Those who did not live before the Revolution never tasted the sweetness of life." (« Qui n’a pas vécu dans les années voisines de 1789, ne sait pas ce que c’est que la douceur de vivre » )

dear rj, oh dear, montana cowpoke that i be, i gotta ask, who is/was susan sontag, what was her claim to cultural enormity, how about paul newman, now there is a cultural icon, motor racer, cook, good westportian and seems to be a happy chappy, keep happy, chuck

Well, who was Susan indeed, not that I don't know the name, but the work in detail, uh well, no, I have to say when asked and then in my best cocktail party manner I segue to something else. I'm sort of one foot in Chuck's pasture and one foot on the sidewalk at RJ's Lex and 86th. Lighthearted gravitas, is that what it was? I thought it was just normal for all those twenty something recent college grads I had for high school teachers to want us all to take calculus, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Latin or Simplified Chinese (pick two, please), physics out of an intro college textbook and all the rest in a public high school in Houston. Hell, I just thought it was fun. I never realized, at least not until after I was thirty, that there was some greater purpose, like saving our young WASP butts, in my case young WASRC butt, from Viet Nam and planting seeds to move their own post Enlightenment social agenda forward. Yup, starting high school in a brand new school in suburban Houston in 1960 that was sweet, you will never know how sweet. This would seem to be that those who did not live at the beginning of the revolution do not know the sweetness of life rather than those who did not live before. Before was fairly rotten I think. I must admit that I do not spend much time listening to the popular music of the middle thirties, my father's teen years, although I do listen to the popular music of the war years and some immediate post war years, my father's mid and late twenties. My father never listened to any of my music whether it was popular with the aristocracy two hundred years ago or popular with my contemporaries he never listened to it. All my children listen, though in some cases not much, to the music I listened to beginning in 1959. My children range in age from thirty eight to ten, note I said children, the grandchildren are a different group. Currently the ten year old at home is introducing me to Kanye West and I am introducing him to Cannonball Adderly and Mozart. The reveloution goes on, it will not be televised. It's still sweet, RJ, more, please!

when one is old, one remember the "sweet life" when one was young, unless, like myself, prefers to live in the present and try to forget some very tough old memories... but of course, every country's past is different.

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