George Walford: Yehudi

Adam Mars-Jones says of a literary critic who likens a novel to a piece of machinery: ‘She wisely omits any reference to Hemingway’s belief that the most efficient part of a story, the part that does the most work, is the part that the author has omitted, since she could hardly point to any actual machine with the same cunning feature.’

Mars-Jones usually thinks more sharply than this. Every machine depends upon the parts omitted for its ability to function; were nothing omitted it would be a featureless block of metal. (Yehudi, if anybody needs the explanation, was the little man who wasn’t there).

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AMONG THE respected works of modern Marxism stands E. J. Hobsbawm’s Primitive Rebels; Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Manchester UP 1959). In struggling to maintain that living conditions determine political attachment – he attempts this by way of listing examples rather than stating the principle – Hobsbawm comes up with this beauty:

The trade union organisers for the General Italian Confederation of Labour (C.G.I.L.) in the province of Foggia, Apulia, consider the Protestants as a body chiefly composed of small peasants; “a sect of gardeners”, as I was told by one of them.

We do not offer prizes for the names of Protestants who are not peasants or gardeners, or of gardeners and peasants who are not Protestants.

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‘ONE OF the triumphs of natural selection is that the results of mental processes reach consciousness, but not the processes themselves. The mind is thus easy to use, but hard to understand.’ (P. N. Johnson-Laird, TLS 1-7 Jan 88)

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THE SUNDAY Times (27 Dec 87) reports a growing ‘liberal consensus’ among Catholic scholars to the effect that ‘it is likely Jesus performed very few miracles.’ Rather like the girl who, when marriage was the thing, had a baby and excused herself on the grounds that it was only a very little one.

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HENRY FORD’S remark, that history is bunk, is now itself a part of history.

from Ideological Commentary 32, March 1988.