April 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Quotidiana connoisseur Patrick Madden guest blogs on his (almost) tour of Montaigne’s Tower:
The first goal on the Madden Family European Road Trip Vacation (after my semester directing a study abroad program in Madrid) was my own pilgrimage to Montaigne’s tower in the Perigord region east of Bordeaux. We arrived after a long day in the car and were surprised to find a chain blocking the entrance. Turns out the site was closed not just on Mondays, as David Lazar had warned me, but on Tuesdays as well. After a few minutes of pleading in fake French, I got to speak to the gardener, who spoke English, and who graciously led us on a tour of the grounds, including some wild- and tame-life encounters (birds, lizards, a snake, and several donkeys). I told him how I was a disciple of Montaigne, wrote my own essays, was editing a book paying homage to the master essayist. He said he wasn’t much for reading Montaigne, but he sure liked caring for the plant life around his place. Laurent’s patience and kindness were extraordinary, and as my family turned finally to leave, he gave me, a lifelong teetotaler, a bottle of Chateau Michel de Montaigne wine (2001 vintage). In all, it was an utterly pleasant afternoon, despite my getting so close but failing to visit the tower.
The way I figure, I can take this thwarted pilgrimage two ways. I can be disappointed, upset, what have you, or I can do like an essayist and use what really happened to my benefit. Like Alexander Smith said of Montaigne:
Each event of his past life he considers a fact of nature; creditable or the reverse, there it is; sometimes to be speculated upon, not in the least to be regretted. If it is worth nothing else, it may be made the subject of an essay
Or as Paul says (in my paraphrased appropriation):
All things work to the good of them that love the essay.
When I set out, I had hoped to see with my own eyes the inscriptions in the beams of Montaigne’s library. Sure. But had I joined a regular tour, I’d never have met Laurent. I’d have been processed through the attraction like so many glassy-eyed high-school kids. I’d have paused and examined, yes, and I’d have taken some pictures, but I did those things anyway, from outside the walls, and one of the things I considered is this:
That there’s something appropriate about being stymied in an essayistic quest, because essays were never about completing things; they distrust the very notion of tidy endings. Much better, it seems to me now, that I missed the dusty tower and instead strolled the grounds with the gardener, who, like the Great Dead Man he and I serve, contains within him the entire human condition.
And, as my friend Brent Rowland pointed out, with my Rush T-shirt on, “this is the most Pat Madden of all Pat Madden photos ever taken.” When I go back in a few decades, trying to make it in the tower, I’ll be sure to carry a volleyball for the picture, so I can out-Pat-Madden even this one.
December 21, 2010 § 2 Comments
For our Brevity staff holiday party we 1) roasted seven fat gooses, 2) consumed ten bottles of Bollinger Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes Francaises 1997, and 3) merrily searched Pat Madden’s wonderful Quotidiana site for holiday references, dragging up such wonderful classical essays as the following: “Christmas” by Alexander Smith (1830-1867):
Sitting here, I incontinently find myself holding a levee of departed Christmas nights. Silently, and without special call, into my study of imagination come these apparitions, clad in snowy mantles, brooched and gemmed with frosts. Their numbers I do not care to count, for I know they are the numbers of my years. The visages of two or three are sad enough, but on the whole ’tis a congregation of jolly ghosts. The nostrils of my memory are assailed by a faint odour of plum-pudding and burnt brandy. I hear a sound as of light music, a whisk of women’s dresses whirled round in dance, a click as of glasses pledged by friends. Before one of these apparitions is a mound, as of a new-made grave, on which the snow is lying. I know, I know! Drape thyself not in white like the others, but in mourning stole of crape; and instead of dance music, let there haunt around thee the service for the dead! I know that sprig of Mistletoe, O Spirit in the midst! Under it I swung the girl I loved—girl no more now than I am a boy—and kissed her spite of blush and pretty shriek. And thee, too, with fragrant trencher in hand, over which blue tongues of flame are playing, do I know—most ancient apparition of them all. I remember thy reigning night. Back to very days of childhood am I taken by the ghostly raisins simmering in a ghostly brandy flame. Where now the merry boys and girls that thrust their fingers in thy blaze? And now, when I think of it, thee also would I drape in black raiment, around thee also would I make the burial service murmur.
May 17, 2010 § 9 Comments
Brevity has offered a forum wherein Patrick Madden, past Brevity author, founder/keeper of the extraordinary Quotidiana website, and author of the essay collection Quotidiana, can admit his various nonfiction transgressions. Frankly, we here at Brevity are still shocked that one of our idols has stooped this low, but kudos to University of Nebraska Press for offering an apology, and a reasonable refund procedure.
As the phone calls, the letters, the legal summonses mount, and the Smoking Gun “journalists” harass me, my family members, and my friends, I have decided to come clean, to declare my guilt preemptively, before I am unmasked by those muckrakers with nothing better to do than to flush a fledgling writer’s career down the toilet. I admit it: I fictionalized key parts of my supposedly nonfiction collection of personal essays, Quotidiana. As a long-time committed nonfictionist, one who teaches his students not to lie, to select and shape their real experiences into literature, I feel so ashamed. I sincerely apologize to those readers who have been disappointed in my actions.
What’s perhaps most disappointing, to me at least, is that it’s been my wife, my father, my mother-in-law, and a good friend who’ve tattled on me. For instance, on page 31, I claim that I only bought ub40’s Greatest Hits when Karina and I were filling out our order of free cds from Columbia House. Karina now assures me that, no, I actually bought this cd from a brick-and-mortar store as a gift for her. And on page 22, where I say that Karina gave our first son the nickname “Pato,” I know now that I should have credited Karina’s mother instead. I can only imagine the anguish I have caused unsuspecting readers who have taken my word for these events. Later in the book, on page 101, I write, perhaps erroneously, that “Helen sang alto harmony to my grandmother’s soprano melody.” Who knows why my father, who had read this particular essay in an earlier form, waited until the book was published to express his doubt about the veracity of this statement. Maybe, he told me, it was Helen who sang the soprano part. Or maybe not. The truth is, right now, we don’t really know. Perhaps the Smoking Gun “investigators” can tell me for sure. And on page 65, at the end of a long, italicized list of Spanish names for fruits and vegetables for sale at Montevideo’s Mercado Modelo, a section of the book that nobody actually reads, I briefly mention the Uruguayans’ preferred word for pineapple, ananá, which I note in contrast to the more widely used piña. Although I have made no claim about the word’s origin, my friend Eduardo Galeano, a wonderful Uruguayan writer, has nevertheless offered the following critique of my research:
I like the book, but here’s just a small observation: if I’m not mistaken, the word ananá is Guaraní, Tupí-Guaraní to be exact, because the fruit comes from Brazil and was unknown outside of tropical America before the European conquest.
I offer the correction or expansion here, in the spirit of penance for my sin of omission. But I suspect there is no forgiveness for the greatest factual error I’ve yet encountered in the book. On page 126, just joking around, I quote some lyrics from a Rush song, replacing “it’s a part of us” with “hippopotamus.” I attribute these lyrics correctly to Neil Peart, but place them in the song “Entre Nous,” which is blatantly false and an embarrassment to me. I claim to be a staunch Rush fan, so how could I not know that these words are from “Different Strings,” the song after “Entre Nous” on 1980’s groundbreaking Permanent Waves? To this humiliating question, I have no sufficient answer, only excruciating guilt and sorrow.
I regret my decisions to falsify my experience in these (and perhaps other, yet-undiscovered) ways, or my slothfulness in neglecting to check these vital facts of my life. I recognize that I have discredited myself in irreparable ways. I only hope these revelations will not alter my readers’ faith in the book’s central message, whatever that may be.
Thankfully, my publisher has assured me that they will take all steps necessary to put things right with the defrauded public. Taking a page from the Doubleday playbook, they’ve issued the following statement:
The potential for controversy over Patrick Madden’s Quotidiana will possibly in the future cause serious or perhaps only mild concern at the University of Nebraska Press. It is not the policy neither is it the stance of this or any other company that we might or might not know of that it doesn’t matter whether a book sold or lent from libraries as nonfiction isn’t false, or that it might not be misconstrued as having arisen from certain unverities or misfacts. Readers wishing to receive a refund on their purchase should simply cut out the kookaburra from the book’s jacket, paste it on a popsicle stick, and create a YouTube video of the animated bird chanting a page from Quotidiana, making sure to change voices for and properly cite any block-quoted passages. Send your link to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your contact information. The best rendition (as voted on by a panel of expert judges) will receive a check for one-tenth of the book’s current lowest Amazon Marketplace price. We try to bear a certain responsibility for some of what we publish, when we can, and we apologize to the reading public for any unintentional confusion, bewilderment, or mystification surrounding or concerning the publication of Quotidiana or any other books, ever.
March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Patrick Madden, editor of the enormously-wonderful website Quotidiana, and author of the equally-wonderful new essay collection Quotidiana, blogs this week over at The Huffington Post on where the classical essay fits in the current literary spectrum.
I love essays in general, present and past, which has driven me to spend all sorts of time I don’t have on collecting them … And it sometimes makes me lament that the term essay itself has fallen into disfavor. Just mention the word and watch people’s eyes glaze over, hear them stammer out apologetic platitudes and poorly veiled excuses. People don’t want to read essays. Or they think they don’t.
The biggest (and saddest) cause of this, I believe, is that the word essay has been hijacked, blasphemed, forced into service for the enemy. If by “essay” we mean a punishment assigned in school, a brief bit of prose designed as a rhetorical proof of somebody else’s ideas, then me, too: I hate those things … But if we mean what Samuel Johnson meant–a “loose sally of the mind; an irregular, undigested piece”–if we agree with Montaigne, the father of the form, that “it is a thorny undertaking…to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds,” yet we make the intent anyway … then count me in! And maybe others will find this form of writing viable, agreeable, enjoyable even!
And the rest of it can be found here, at Huffington Books.
Also, check out the Atlantic Wire re-post/response. They’ve flip-flopped the title to ask “Is the Essay Dead?” and the comments section is rather rough and tumble.