Kári Tulinius (aka Kattullus) e-mailed me this link, calling a couple of the posts by saxophonist Josh Rutner “one of the finest portrayals I have read of the joy of hunting down elusive quotes.” And so they are. The first, after an encomium to Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave and a quote from it about words as living organisms, continues:
I remember a funny instance of being misled by those living word-organisms: I was reading Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, an intensely beautiful vision of Gustave Flaubert, revolving around a fight for authenticity between two stuffed parrots. Towards the end of the book, I found a phrase which Barnes takes from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary which struck me as particularly poignant:
“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”
I knew I’d read that phrase before. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read Madame Bovary, so it wasn’t that. It’s true that at the time I’d been listening incessantly to Randy Newman’s album Sail Away, and perhaps I’d imagined hearing that line within the song, Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear; but no such luck. I was convinced it’d been quoted in the book I’d just finished, Peter Handke’s The Left-Handed Woman. I went through every page trying to locate this little quote. I was so convinced that after finding nary a bear reference in my first flip through, I re-read the book. Again. And again: no bear, no kettle; no stars.
Finally, I was distraught enough to imagine that I’d in fact read the quote earlier in the book. I began again at page one; hunting for bears. Turns out I had seen it earlier in the book—twice. In Barnes’ multifaceted look at Flaubert’s life and work, he used this same quote in three places, each as if for the first time. It had become lodged in my mind the first two times, and only the third time did it appear as a friend, waiting to be unveiled.
You can read the three citations of the quote at the link, and if you scroll down you can read a wonderful post about investigating the history of the quote “God is a circle, whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere.” Great stuff; thanks, Kári!