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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

On Bertrand Russell's Autobiography Dudley Young

THE PROBLEMS are formal, all right, maybe they always were. No one can wear a suit any more, and jeans get sloppy Charles Uptight in his three-piece whatsit may pronounce with severity, but we suspect he's schizoid, left his body uptown whereas Denim Dan, in his leftover grooviness, holds his body, for sure; but he's a-syntactical and has an attention span of about four seconds.

How then shall we approach Bertrand Russell? Shall we call him Bertie? Probably not, as he was the last serious English-man: so make it Bertrand, friend, and the subject is seriousness. He had it, we've lost it, and thrown it away. But do we register this loss in some simulation of good prose, observing the decorums of the literary essay? Or is that simply to exacerbate the condition of terminal frivolity in which we all are drowning?

For we must admit that one way to fiddle Rome's fire is to come on like Charles Uptight. Are the consolations of three-piece prose not various, suggesting to us and to our friends, the mimic men, that civility is still around, manifest in our syntax? Barbarism, like winter, may be icumen in, but until the central heating packs up, our job is to hum the old ones, glancing occasionally at the silly thermometer.

Oh no, says the savage soothsayer: 'Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.' Good one Ez, but these days it's hard to know when the pulling down ...


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