by Mark Dorset
|Life’s Little Things
The Minutiae of Everyday Life
The unnamed narrator in Vladimir Nabokov’s “A Guide to Berlin”:
I think that here lies the sense of literary creation: to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in the far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become exquisite and festive in its own right: the times when the man who might put on the most ordinary jacket of today will be dressed up for an elegant masquerade.
If we look at life from all sides, observing how in everything that concerns us the extraordinary, the great, and the beautiful play the leading part, we shall soon realize the purpose of our creation. This is why, by some sort of natural instinct, we admire, not, surely, the small streams, beautifully clear though they may be, and useful too, but the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine . . . . In all such circumstances, I would say only this, that men hold cheap what is useful and necessary, and always reserve their admiration for what is out of the ordinary.
“The familiar man makes the hero artificial,” Wallace Stevens said. In the commonplaceness of their narratives, some of these talkers anticipated the direction that American fiction would eventually take—away from the heroic, the larger than life, toward the ordinary, the smaller than life.
Not one novelist in a thousand ever does tell us the real story of their hero. . . . It is the petty details, not in the great results, that the interest of existence lies.
A History of Detail in the eighteenth century, presided over by Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, touching on Leibniz and Buffon, via Frederick II, . . . should bring us, at the end of the century, to the man who dreamt of being another Newton, not the Newton of the immensities of the heavens and the planetary masses, but a Newton of “small bodies,” small movements, small actions; . . . the man who replied to Monge’s remark, “there was only one world to discover”:
“What do I hear? But the world of details, who has never dreamt of that other world, what of that world? I have believed in it ever since I was fifteen. I was concerned with it then, and this memory lives within me, as an obsession never to be abandoned. . . . That other world is the most important of all that I flatter myself I have discovered: when I think of it, my heart aches.”(these words are attributed to Bonaparte in the introduction to Saint-Hilaire’s Notions synthétiques et historiques de philosophie naturelle).
Towards evening is the best time for telling stories. The insignificant world near at hand disappears, distant things which seem better and nearer move up around us. Once upon a time: in fairytale that does not only mean something past, but a more colourful or lighter Elsewhere. And those who live happily ever after there, if they are not dead yet, are still alive to this day. Even in the fairytale there is suffering, but it changes, and does so for good. Gentle, badly treated Cinderella goes to the little tree where her mother's grave lies, little tree wake yourself and shake yourself, a dress falls down, the most splendid and dazzling Cinderella has ever seen, and the slippers are all golden. The fairytale always turns golden in the end, there is enough happiness to go round. It is always the little heroes and the poor folk here who manage to reach the place where life has come good.
Intro to CPL(sf): filling my life with things that I must do, or am obliged to do, or have been made to believe that I ought to do
H&L 45 the principles that underlie the life they make for themselves
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|Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Eric
A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.
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