Sentences — December 8, 2008, 4:18 pm

Effort Into Function

mrbiswas
A friend of mine is a bartender, and I hadn’t seen him for a while, until last week. It’s fun to watch him bring over two decades of experience to bear on the opening of a bottle of beer or the making of a margarita. Traffic wears a groove into things, and repeated motion turns effort into function. Function, when effortless, which is to say when, through repetition, it becomes a pure expression of effort, can be beautiful. If you’ve ever watched a field being mowed by hand, with a scythe, you know what I mean.

We don’t have, I don’t think, many opportunities these days simply to watch simple things done well. Virtuosity is left to the virtuosi: Favre connecting, Bill T. Jones a-leaping, Perlman Baching—all impressive, but an impressiveness that leaches the layman of any sense of approachable, and therefore agreeable, mastery on a mortal scale.

Odd, then, that in reading the introduction last night to the 1983 edition of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, I didn’t register a sense of the Olympian pressing down upon the quotidian. Odd, of course, given all we’ve lately (not to say long) heard about Naipaul’s self-regard. Naipaul discusses the writing of that novel in a very humble way, not falsely humble, but very much a matter of building a wall, finely and slowly. A process worth hearing about: a force becoming a form.

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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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