Monday, September 16, 2013

All Those Lonely Intellectuals

Washington Square painting by Vincent Arcilesi
Edmund White recalls sociologist and author Dick Sennett, who lived in a converted stables off Washington Square where he entertained the Sontags and Foucaults who regularly dropped in.
“No one paid much attention to the food or the liberal lashings of plonk. It was all a plush background for the startling mondaine reality in the frame: the good talk and the promise of even better talk.
“Dick knew not to quiz the great about their Subjects, their Accomplishments, but rather to tease them about their secret Vices, their hidden charms, their unheralded powers of Seduction. He was always grabbing the hoary hand of a grizzled Oxford don and saying, ‘Oh, what a naughty pussycat you are! Aren’t you? Aren’t you? Such evil, evil naughty thoughts — and Deeds! Yes, Deeds, Mr. Pussy-Boy. Okay, everyone, ´å table, ´å table, and remember: Paws up!’
“No one quite knew what paws up meant, but it sounded like a cross between an eating club slogan and a half-forgotten piece of nursery (or else Masonic) mummery.
“All those lonely intellectuals, their eyes hollowed out from years of reading microfiches and medieval script, from gabbling to themselves over tinned beans and Bovril in unheated Rooms, were now being stroked and feted and fed. They were like feral cats being tickled behind the ears for the first time. They were purring, though still looking around anxiously for the next boot in the rear, the next nasty review by a rival in the Times Literary Supplement. Nor did Dick invite just the old and famous. He knew they needed young and lovely nobodies to make a fuss over them.”
I had to look up “mondaine,” a sociological term meaning “characteristic of fashionable society; worldly.” Indeed. I also had to research “Bovril.” Sounds like dreadful stuff.
— Edmund White, “City Boy”

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