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APPRENTICE AND MASTER

All these long years, it had been there for him –
Some patch of canvas naked as the light,
Left untouched by some curious oversight,
Or just abandoned at some patron’s whim;
And all the while he’d seen in every space –
As one might see it in a starry sky,
Or in a fire, or water rushing by –
The features of his own first angel’s face.
So when at last the master gave him leave
To finish off a corner of one scene,
The pupil had no picture to conceive;
For in that instant, wild and serene,
The angel wings in his own heart unfurled –
His soul his brush, and in his brush the world.

By Jonathan Steffen

First published in ‘Acumen’, October 1994; reprinted in ‘First Sixty: The Acumen Anthology’, 2010

Maigret

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Maigret is like barium – an iridescent die introduced into the body to reveal its operations and frailties. In many of the novels, he uses a long, slow, steady process of immersion in the setting of the crime in order to understand what might have been the motivation of the criminal – an understanding which is the precondition for his being able to identify and ultimately apprehend him or her.

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Cesare Borgia

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Dante created with the Inferno a completely new idiom for discussing sin. The idea of damnation was nothing new for Dante and his contemporaries, nor the concept of the punishment fitting the crime. But Dante imbued these notions with a completely new poetic and symbolic resonance.

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Georges Simenon

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I tried to read Simenon in my twenties, when I was living in Heidelberg. I believe I even started reading The Carter of ‘La Providence’ in French at some point, but I laid the book aside after a few chapters. Like the other Maigret stories I had attempted, I found it unbearably dismal and consequently quite unreadable.

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Cesare Pavese

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The thing that makes Cesare Pavese so difficult to read is his simplicity. For Pavese, nothing is complicated. It is all simple. And agonising in its simplicity.

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Buster Keaton

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I think my reading of Buster Keaton in my early twenties was completely wrong.

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Conan Doyle and George Eliot

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Monday 27th March 1984

Last night I read an article on Conan Doyle which set me thinking about caricature and characterisation. Sherlock Holmes is of course a caricature in every respect: his famous ‘character’ is made up of a number of extremely exaggerated and improbable traits which we believe in not because we think we ought to but because we genuinely want to:

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Charles Dickens

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Sunday, 22 April 1984 (Easter Day)
I can remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mother a couple of years ago: I was reading aloud from Pickwick Papers and we were laughing ourselves silly over “On a log / Expiring frog!” “Now, that’s what I call writing,” said my mother. “What happens? Nothing? And it’s so funny…”

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Window on the World

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I am making a window on the world,
A stained-glass window through which to look at things.
It is very much my own creation,

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Wound

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Take a butcher’s red by Goya
And an arctic blue by El Greco.
Gently fold in an agonised beige by Grunewald

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St. Francis in the Slaughter-House

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He left his sparrows waiting at the door
And entered like a draught, his bare feet treading

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