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4.9.07

À mon chevet: Old School (pp. 24-25)

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This post inaugurates a regular post at Ionarts, featuring a quote that struck me in whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
I hadn't heard anyone speak of a writer as having power. Truth, yes. Wit, understanding, even courage -- but never power. We had talked in class about Pasternak and his troubles, and the long history of Russian writers being imprisoned and killed for not writing as the Party wished. Augustus Caesar had sent our Latin master's beloved Ovid into exile. And when the progressive Mr. Ramsey -- himself a gift from England -- wanted to show us what mushrooms we all were, he recalled our nation's inhospitality to Lolita, which he considered the century's greatest novel since Ulysses -- another victim of churlish American censors!

Yet the effect of all these stories was to make me feel not Caesar's power, but his fear of Ovid. And why would Caesar fear Ovid, except for knowing that neither his divinity nor all his legions could protect him from a good line of poetry.

-- Tobias Wolff, Old School, "Class Picture" (2003)

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