Sunday, May 27, 2012

It’s well to know exactly who you are, so you can conduct the rest of your life properly.

Paul Fussell has died. There are obituaries here and here. I know him as the author of a fine book on Kingsley Amis, but these obituaries show that there was more to him than that. At least three more of his books sound well worth reading. Some quotes (in addition to the one I've used as the title of this post):
Jewelry is another instant class-lowerer, like the enameled little Old Glory lapel pins worn by the insane and by cynical politicians working backward districts …
Dismal food is bad. Dismal food pretentiously served in a restaurant associated with the word ‘gourmet’ is BAD. Being alert to this distinction is a large part of the fun of being alive today, in a moment teeming with raucously overvalued emptiness and trash.
UPDATE: it has been pointed out to me that one of the quotes I originally gave is actually from Hemingway. It's still good, so I'll quote it again, but I'd rather do so with the correct attribution. Here it is:
Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the number of roads, the names of rivers, the number of regiments and dates.


  1. "The one I've used as the title of this post": I don't know of any book by Fussell entitled "It’s well to know exactly who you are, so you can conduct the rest of your life properly." What book are you referring to?

    I recommend The Great War and Modern Memory first among all of Fussell's books, and a fortiori among those which mix literary analysis with social history; Class among his books of social commentary (above BAD, the one that you quote); and Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing among his books of literary criticism.

  2. Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant that the title of my post was one quotation from Fussell, and then I gave some more. I think that quote is from an interview. The books that sounded best to me are The Great War and Modern Memory, Class, and Abroad, his book on British travel writing. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll add Samuel Johnson to the list.

  3. Ah, I misconstrued the antecedent of the word "one" in your sentence as the subject of the preceding sentence, "his books" rather than the word "quotes" in the sentence itself. I thought perhaps you had first written the post with one of Fussell's titles as your own then changed the title without correcting the body.

    How much you like Abroad may depend on the extent of your acquaintance with the travel literature to which Fussell refers. If you are not already acquainted with Greene, Waugh, Byron, Douglas, et al., I think you will find The Great War more immediately rewarding.

  4. Thanks. I'll read The Great War first in that case.

  5. I too have been away (writing my book), and am now reading your past posts in reverse order. Being namechecked by Austin's son-in-law was quite... enlivening, although not more so than the news of the forthcoming biography of Austin.

    The first thing I thought of when I heard about Paul Fussell's death was: when is somebody going to write something that attempts to weigh the relative merits of "Mr. Truman's Degree" and Fussell's "Thank God for the Atom Bomb" - his notorious 1981 essay that is considered and heartfelt defense of the sentiment reflected in the title. Maybe you can be prodded into it, or at least into a blog post or two on same.

  6. Maybe I can. I only heard about his essay by reading his obituary, but I agree that something on the subject would be worth writing. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I hope your book is coming along well.