12 June 2011

FOURTH


A.  There is a remarkable pleasure that comes from exploring a specific high-end market niche, finding out what’s available and how it works, what makes some things better than others.  It combines the joy of discovering a new, unanticipated field of knowledge and the all pleasures of covetousness.  Mechanical watches, headphones, books.  One is initiated into a wonderful mass of new distinctions which order a class of objects formerly mysteriously amorphous in their various qualities.  I had never thought before about the possibility that differences in typeface made it easier to read some books than others, or that the softness of paper and binding could make it easier to keep a book open, and therefore explain why I always wolf down books published under the Vintage label, while that cheap edition of Augustine's Confessions (with the small typeface and narrow margins) remains unfinished.
B.  Sometimes at random one will catch a very specific odor coming from an unlikely source.  At present the fingers of my right hand smell of benzoyl peroxide.  This probably has something to do either with the foreign bar of soap I just used to wash my hands, or the chemicals in the soil of my back yard.  I have not actually encountered benzoyl peroxide in a good many years, but the chemical odor remains in my memory.  The trite response to this reflection would be something about how scent is the sense with the strongest ties to memory.  Or perhaps you expect me to say something about Proust.  (There you go, I did it.)  But really I just wanted to point out that my hand smells like an acne medication that I haven’t used since I was 15.
C.  ”That assembly, whom Marcus had ever considered as the great council of the nation, was composed of the most distinguished of the Romans; and distinction of every kind soon became criminal.  The possession of wealth stimulated the diligence of the informers; rigid virtue implied a tacit censure of the irregularities of Commodus; important services implied a dangerous superiority of merit; and the friendship of the father always insured the aversion of the son.  Suspicion was equivalent to proof; trial to condemnation.  The execution of a considerable senator was attended with the death of all who might lament or revenge his fate; and when Commodus had once tasted human blood, he became incapable of pity or remorse.”  — Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Chapter IV