Thursday, December 1, 2016

act then existence



"I am now very much looking forward to your review," said Bill from The Australian Legend, so I'll write one. The People with the Dogs is a book about a man, Edward, who has enough money to thrive but feels unsettled. His family owns a large country property, Whitehouse, where everyone is welcomed. Edward often lives with his tenants in one of the two New York City boarding houses he inherited from his parents, but participation in communal living spaces is not enough: the book believes that he requires some sort of sharpening, a new habit of decision followed by action, "for decision is the little magic word that existence respects," said Kierkegaard (tr. Alastair Hannay) when he wrote his own 1846 review of Thomasine Christine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd's Two Ages. Kierkegaard is never mentioned but that sentiment is the conscience of Stead's book. And you remember this from her other work. You recall that the important event at the end of The Man Who Loved Children, 1940, is not the outcome of Louie's decision, whatever that will be, but the decision itself that shakes her loose from her family; and Jules Bertillon in House of All Nations, 1938, seduces everybody and is forgiven by everybody because of his busy willingness to jump after schemes. Bertillon's bad-souled counterpart in A Little Tea, A Little Chat, 1948, talks but is essentially static.

The feeling of Dogs is that life presses against human beings from behind and they are going to rush forward in some way. The push is multifarious rather than singular: it is not attributed to society or biology, specifically, and definitely not to a desire for financial advancement, which has been eliminated by the family's casual bohemianism and mild wealth. Moving forward in the forward movement of time is a phenomenon that you, as a creature, cannot avoid, a strangling vine grows over Whitehouse, and the love of dogs is introduced as a contrast to the love of humans, to marriage: the moment of decision. Love comes in different forms. It is not only marriage. Marriage, however, is the decision-making form that represents progress and therefore a moment of relief. "If … the individual will not act then existence cannot help. To be like that king, Agrippa, on the point of believing or of acting, is the most exhausting state imaginable if one stays in it for too long." Kierkegaard again. Edward's girlfriend Margot has been trapped for eleven years, calling him "cruel," because he cannot move out of that "exhausting state." Alongside him there are people who have tried to stay with past attitudes (the old anarchist, Philip) and people who are trying to push on but failing (Margot). Yet you see that marriage has brought other people to the same kind of life as unmarried ones; the moment of relief is not everlasting. A communal arrangement provides the anarchist's sister with tender care as well as neglect and Edward's married sister also experiences care and neglect. The period of decisiveness is the reward, not the state of marriage. Around everybody there is movement, movement, movement. The "deep peace" of Whitehouse is mentioned several times but the place itself is introduced with a riot of action; and the poverty and troubles of the countryside's farmers are brought up, and the generous family is also selfish and careless when they sneer at the delivery boy who tries to escape from their snapping dogs. As usual in this author, every setting is a situation in flux; multifarious, unstable, contradictory, built to resist singular conclusions and summaries. Much later, in 1979, when the journalist Rodney Wetherell from the ABC asked Stead if she left Australia as a young woman because it was stifling her she said no, it was because she liked the sea; when he asked her if she was a feminist she said no, she did not believe in it; and when he asked if she was a professional writer then she said no, she was not that either. When he pointed out that she had published a "long line of books which make you appear to be a professional writer" she said yes, writing was something one did because one did it, but she was not it.


Monday, November 21, 2016

howled in unison and singly



Witnessing a suggestion made in the comments thread for the review at ANZ LitLovers of Christopher Butler's Modernism, a Very Short Introduction, 2010, that the "non-stop extravagant talk" in The Man Who Loved Children, 1940, might be "aiming for … getting to the essence of a person", I thought I would say something about the nature of speech in The People with the Dogs, 1952, since this was the book I had said I would read for Lisa's Christina Stead Week.

It seems to me that the words depicted as spoken in this book are not being treated like meaning-rooted revelations of personality or with surprise we discover that the person secretly feels such and such, so much as material substances that a character can regard like wood, cloth, marble or anything else that can be made into a participatory, functional, chairlike shape for other fictional phenomenon to observe, ignore, and sit on. Conversation is a sculptural object. Speech reiterates the person's position in the crowd and the form that their participation takes, and is less concerned with any idea of an inner, ineffable self; or else the connection between these two things is constantly stressed by the author until the sense of refraction between them is almost automatic.

Speech's function is to form an act of transition that adds to what Kate Webb refers to as Stead's method of dialectics, the multivalenced collisions of her atmosphere, or what another LitLovers comment on Man refers to as the book's way of making you feel as if you're living next to noisy neighbours. The character Lou remarking "H2O or K9P?" as he looks at a puddle of water from the boiler is not making himself known by saying interesting word-meanings but by creating a playful shape.

He is the only character who is associated with this letter-number way of speaking. And is also reasserting himself as the one in the family who dislikes dogs. This is not news to anybody, but the reassertion itself is part of his role in the larger symphonic arrangement of the family's tics. Then the weather is symphonic and there are dog-symphonies: "The dogs let out a roar, and howled in unison and singly in the hills." Victor-Alexander has lived among birds and his voice "hurried out of his mouth like their trilling." A bird chooses a tree by the window so that it can sing back to Mozart being played on the piano. Many characters engage in performance, the very poor puppeteers and amateur theatre companies, the famous singer Vera; Solo and his band, the brother who is known as Suttinlay because he "once acted a Southern gentleman in a play and said, "Sutt-in-lay, suh," Lydia the actor, Edward with his stage dialects, and this idea of performing, acting, and presenting oneself among people. Victor-Alexander adjusts his presentation whenever someone outside the family can understand him. "If anyone came who understood him, he spoke faster and faster." 

The characters don't necessarily speak to one another. Lou is not saying "K9P" to anyone. They have conversations directed at the conceptual idea of an audience, even when actual people are present. Where is the locus of meaning when Lou says K9P? The terror scene near the end of Shirley Jackson's Hangsaman, 1951, is created partly through a sudden recalcitrance of information. Why is it being stolen from us? In Max Jacob a series of events become dreamlike by the retraction of the source of change between one state and another. The lodging of that change somehow deep within the text, unspoken, as between shots in a montage. See also, election promises.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

A comparison between the language in a description of a Charlotte Smith conference held at Chawton House Library, Chawton, from the 14th to the 16th of October, 2016; and the language of Smith’s own Elegiac Sonnets, and Other Poems, 1827 (a posthumous collection).




1.
innovative … original … beautiful setting … ground-breaking … excitement … burgeoning … innovative … informative … beautifully … stunning … beautiful locations … wonderful … fascinating … inspired … enticing … lively … profitable … bright … engaging … very enjoyable … particularly enjoyed … very fine … wonderfully innovative … fascinating … home-made lavender shortbread biscuits … incredibly talented … wonderful … charming … insight … progress … magnificent … beautifully … insights … innovations … achieved


2.
doom'd … delusive … thorn … pang … mourning … frail … tyrant … melancholy … woe … sorrow … fate … victims … cruel … disastrous … sad … wretched … sufferers … death … despair … woe … sorrowed … wearied … toiling … sad … pain … fear, anxiety … sad … fade … pale … farewell … tortured … pain ... rankling … wound … delusions … sadness … despair … pangs … shun … taunts … tears … cruel … deceit ... barbed … scorn … lost … delusions … pain … sorrow … sad … aching … anxious … screaming … gloomy … mournful … shipwreck’d … faint … feeble … exhausted … dies … forbids … wither’d ... doom’d … wound … unhappy … sad … grief … sadness … decay … blighted … vain .. hopeless … culpable … grief … dust … bitter … deplore … trembling … ashes … ill-omen’d … harsh … tyrant … despair … maniac … haunt … thorns … poison … gulf … helpless … grave … fatal … sorrow … tears … mournful … pitying … melancholy ... hopeless … despair … pain … weeps … endure … death … faithless … drear … howl … raves … trembling … fade … despair … die … tomb … sigh … suicide … tremble … embalm … dead … mournful … hopeless … guilt … despair … deplore … worms … pain … hapless … vain … mourn … pitying … sorrows … lament … sighing … sorrow … thorns … wretched … wound … wretched … rue … pain … folly … misfortune … vain … fears … oppress … profaned … Folly … disdain’d … sorrows … frail … fades … blast … wounds … misfortune … severe affliction … gloomy ... sorrow … sighs … tears … stain … unfit … arduous … tearful … mourner’s … hopeless … Sorrow’s drooping form … faded … lonely … sad … pangs of sorrow … dread … careless … sighs … mournful … bewail … sighs … sadden’d … melancholy … toiling… burden’d … troubles … fears … tears … regret … languid … beating … bitter … vain … cares … weak … little worth … false … ills … poor … estranged … regret … fruitless anguish … sigh … die … fainting … thorns … roughness … sorrow … unhappy … clouds of evil … sickening … weary … tomb … pale spectre Care … weak … dissolving … tears … cruel … harsh … condemns … unpitied, unrelieved, unknown … delusions … aggravated pain … mournful … wane … deep depression … enfeebled … grief … vain … sullen … cheerless …gloom … exhausted … wretched, hopeless … sorrows … tortures … guilt … bleeds … vain remorse … tumultuous … unfit … death … languid sufferer … die … anguish … vain regret … misery … sallow … ruins … mourn … sobs … wither’d … shrieking … pain … vulture … unhappy … bleak … unfriendly … cold, barren, desert … thirst … hunger … repine … fearful … hopeless … decline … heartless pain … blank despair … fail … lost … woe … delusive … toils … feeble … shrinking … dead … grave … vain … rave … warring … doom’d … opprest … gloomy … farewell … thoughtless … deplore … sorrows … resign … hideous … deserted … drear … sighing … discordant … spoiling … deface … fading … dead … sad grave … murder’d … false … depart … suffer … suffer … anguish … wearied … sad … vain … sorrows … forget … calamity … prey … affliction … mournful … tomb … gloom … opprest … fruitlessly repine … resign … sorrow … tears … silent grave … farewell … deluded … regretted … unfruitful … scanty … desolate … solitude … drear … cheerless gloom … faultering [sic] … unhappy … fades … tempests scowling … apall’d … oppress’d … alone … desolate … unblest … anxious … trembling .. recoils … woe … shivering … regret … parting … dreary … sufferer … waste of joyless life … deplore … forgotten … past … extinguish’d … blank void … hopeless pain … my soul depress’d … pathless … oppress’d … forgetfulness … weary … evils … torturing, savage foes … trackless … howl … waste … dreads … hideous … hollow … trembling … woe … death … horror fraught … desolate dismay … starless … heavy … dangerous … pains … pittance … tawdry … hated … shudders … disgust … spectre … hopeless … insanity … grim … comfortless Despair … victim … faithless … dire … hideous … corrosives … fatal … traitor … untrue … wounds … endure … vain … curse … pain … spirit-wounding pangs … guilty … illusions … dreary … gloom … errors … deplore … long-lost … tortured … pain … agonies … deceived … callous … woes … dread … threatening … gloom … Tempest … terrors … deplore … fatal … conflicting … burst … warring … rave … accurst … ruthless … grave … shrieks … horror … trembling … wretched … despair … threatening … tomb … sorrows … frantic … wept … dust … curse … lost … tomb … grave … unheeded … vain … fruitless … death … agonizing pain … cruelty … dread … mangled … demons … despair … death … peril .. dead, disfigured … wretch … unhappy … deafening … delusion … frantic pain … tears … anguish … despair … vain …dead … horrors … despair … death ... desolation … injured … transient … delay’d … droop … tomb … jealous … doom … thorn … cruel … frail … fade … anger … fatal … wretched … unhappy … vice … folly … storms … lost … discord … death … warring … faithless … savage … blood … venal … sickly … grief … pined … threaten’d … rob … destroy … frowns … sighing … mournful … palsied … denied … raves … faint … trembling … woe … sever’d … wretch … heart-struck mourner … convulsed … anguish … despair’s intolerable weight … frantic … death … pain … deplore … cold, cold … wounds … sigh … anxious … useless … pain … hapless … mournful … scorn … saddening, sickening … dread … neglect … denies … death … transient … anguish … dying … blights … gaudy … sorrow … oppressor’s wrong … despondency … regret … exhausted … robb’d … grave … fiend Despair … anxious … evils … tempests … fainting … tear … sorrows … pain … grief … sorrows … hapless … sad … calamities … gale … garish … offends … ill-omen’d … mournful … dread … evils … lamentation … delusive … wounded … woes … sick … transient … drear … shuddering … woe … enfeebled … cheerless … unblest … pain … vain … dying … wan … waste … desolate … weary … sad vicissitudes … care … doubt .. despair … faded … thorny … wept … transient … vanish … fragile … fleeting … wither’d … barren … lingering pain …tepid … grave … palsied … woe-deprest … torpid … Despair … sad … broken heart … cold blight … bitter … bleakness … blast … sorrow … fade … mourns … deplore … corrosive … hollow … shock … sullen … desolate … wan … opprest … shuns … weep … shudder … aghast … forlorn … chill … howling blast … crumbling … ravenous … tempest … gloom … shun … mouldering … sadness … wretch … despair … bursting … wretched … fade … vain … mourn … hopeless pain … sullen … o’erwhelmed with grief … tears … pallid … trembling, dreads … sorrow … disease … embittering … plunder’d … wretch … wild … sighs … hoarse … lamentation … moody sadness … giant horrors … woe … chill … night-blast … sullen … gloomy … cheerless … frowns … lonely … bleak … mourn … gloom … death … thorny … sad vicissitudes … grief … tears .. scanty … Sorrow’s victims … anguish … grave … forsakes … chill … sullen … sad soul … sorrows … death … hollow … drear … gloom … suffering … miseries … tomb … anguish … deplore … loss … pathless … frown … unknown … capricious … woes … petty … tyrants … Oppression … die … died … mocking … veil … illusive flattery … dull … Sorrow’s … dissolve … leafless .. chilling … trembling … transient … untimely grave … tears … repine … regret … hopeless grief … weary … Violence … Fraud … tired … tear-swollen … trembling … Melancholy … vainly … Sorrow … forsook … lurid … troubled … accursed … bad … abject … parasite … bled … dead … dark plague-spots … demons … death … destructive … mangled … dying … pollute … spoils … blood … forsake … saddening … mourn .. hopeless … crush’d … bitterest anguish … bleeds … sorrowing vigil … weep … poor … mould … time-worn sufferer … evil … threatening woes … friendless … houseless … sigh … coffin … tear … sorrows … sickness .. oppress’d … death … wretch … outcast spurn’d … penury … death … insulted … doom … thorns … chill … howling … scowling … lonely … tears … repining … anxious … deceiving … distresses … blighted …grief … sorrow … storm … victims … sad … dreading … miseries … anguish … hostile … doom’d … chill penury … languish … abject … soul-crushing … terrors … dreading … ruin … fears … mourner … woes … wretched … confined … poor ill-fated … transient … unshelter’d … raves … drooping … pain … vain … hapless … shatter’d … evil … precarious … vicissitudes … distresses … pains … lank … shiv’ring … sorrows … sick … howls … trouble … fears … nervous … rough … stubborn … weary … disappointments … luckless … regret … wept … chaotic … barren … troubled … rifted … frown’d … stormy … drear … tempest-beaten graves … Desolation … dead … fiend … sullen … demon’s … sterile waste … ignorance … toil … bleak … cold … cheerless … grim desolation … frown … blasting … ungrateful … death … scratched … croaking … clamorous … drear … widow’d mourner … melancholy … lone … up-torn … hopeless wretch … mourn … tears … dire … blotted … wild … torrents … fatal … accursed … infuriate … weak … grave … repels … rapine … savage … gasping sufferer … inhuman … half-drown’d … tempests … avarice … callous … weary … toils … fate … decay … despondence … blighted … death … sorrows … bitter … indigent, unheeded … deceitful … mercenary … decrepit … disfigured … sallow … gale … faded … lost … furious … fragile … prey … tremble … desponding … pale despair … enfeebling … shudders … blast … decay … accursed … sick … declining … died … sad … alone … sad … distress’d … dejection … tempests … depress … disfigure … gloom … mournfully … heavily … hopeless … fearfully … heart-sick … sad … wept … sullen moan … wretched … repentance … falter’d … forlorn … pain … cruel desertion … lament … forsake … woe … fear … vain fruitless tear … lament … cruel … anguish … disease … dead … plague-tainted … loss … sorrows … moan … pain … injured … tears … wither’d … miseries … dreading … scar … desolation … death … demons … war … melancholy … woe … sorrow … cheats … ungrateful … Grief … funereal … wretched victims of Disease … weary … weep … agonizing Pain … mourner … die … Sorrow’s pallid votary … crime … bondage … aching … broken … delusion … anguish … sad … sighs … dreads … suffering … woe … pang … treacherous … faithless … grief … deceit … ghost … hollow .. tears … thorns … molest … robb’d … deprived … weep … sad … sorrow … deplore … grief … griefs … wearied … tempest-toss’d … lost … sufferings … fiends … dejected Memory … mourn … regretting … withering … sickening … bleeds … cold … worn … dissolving … wretched … breathless … hostile … surly … trembling … Fear, frantic Fear … weak … repenting … die … Death … dread sound … murderous bomb … destructive … overwhelm’d … horror … mourner … drear … fatal … devastation … hideous … bleeding corse [corpse] … staggering … murder’d … raving maniac … calamitous … robb’d … screams …. cruel … cruel … curse … pain … agony … mourning … vain … dire disease … grave … coldly languish … devoid of joy … anguish … drag … woe … misery … tomb … fester’d wounds … grief … fatal … diseases … die … wretch … pain … abject dread of death … wretched … Despair … fears … die … poignant grief … dregs … woe … torturing pain … impoverish’d … Indigence …. wasting anguish … ungrateful … wounded wretch … deplore … death … joyless, cheerless … sick, reluctant … dismay … terrors … fearful dread ... grave



Monday, November 7, 2016

a Look of extreme Surprize



Again:
The Girl being perfectly recover'd from her Intoxication by the Fright she had been in, gaz'd upon Arabella with a Look of extreme Surprize: Yet being mov'd to respect by the Dignity of her Appearance, and strange as her Words seem'd to be by the obliging Purport of them, and the affecting Earnestness with which they were deliver'd, she rose from her Seat and thank'd her, with an Accept full of Regard and Submission.

What is the word “submission” doing in that sentence? It seems to go along by rote with “regard.” The situation that Lennox has written for the Girl is a dangerous one but as the story continues you see that -- she vanishes -- the author is uninterested in her safety. Still it is worth taking a moment to say that she submits. In the books of Marguerite Duras (I’ve been reading Emily L., 1987, The Vice-Consul, 1966, and The Ravishing of Lol Stein, 1964) submission is the sign of a great force that seems essentially disembodied, even though bodies are described carrying it. The anonymous woman in Emily L. appears to be frightened of, or depressed or repelled by, something that the author represents as writing poetry. She also might be in love. At least two forces seem to be either united or in combat against one another with this anonyme as a flashpoint. Herself, she's typically weary and still. But that doesn’t stop Duras using her as a territory where multifarious dynamics can feel themselves into being. Ann Lennox’s Arabella, who pictures herself as a heroic Romantic force, encounters the Girl who is described as a naval officer’s mistress,* and then there is this word, “submission”, that I persist in seeing as important, even though I don’t believe Lennox thought very much about writing it. I think she wanted it to be a continuation of the worry we are supposed to have, that Arabella will embarrass herself by taking the Girl home. (The imaginary reader is laughing and cringing.) If the Girl had been confused or annoyed then Arabella would have been blocked, but since she is submissive there is nothing to get in the way. I suspect I am supposed to think of her submission as a funny threat, not as part of the implied psychology of the Girl, but as one element in the unbroken flow of the fears of Mr. Glanville.



* “An Officer of Rank in the Sea Service had brought his Mistress disguis'd in a Suit of Man's or rather Boy's Cloaths, and a Hat and Feather, into the Gardens.”



Saturday, October 29, 2016

laudable Affection of the Mind



Looking across the history of reactions to The Female Quixote I believe that nobody has ever seemed happy with the ending, not even the ones who agree that Arabella needed to be reformed. It happened so quickly that the (this is my paraphrase:) realism of reasonable pacing was violated.

It switches to Rasselas shortwindedness in which an abstract represented by Sir Charles seems not only pre-assured but imminent. Arabella’s Romantic mental fantasyland is dispelled through logical argument; and quickly, quickly she has expressed humility and married Mr Glanville.

The author, taking a new self from herself, moves at a fantasy speed, as if she wishes she had the dream-instantness that happens in Powys’ novellas, but as a proponent of realism she has removed her own access to that usefulness -- she has been aligning herself with the opposition for over three hundred pages now (in the Oxford University Press, 1970 edition), though at this point in the historical development of the book she can still write a variation on then they lived happily ever after – I mean she has this shorthand for happiness still available to her.

Mr. Glanville and Arabella were united, as well in these [titles and finances], as in every Virtue and laudable Affection of the Mind.

FINIS

In book IX, ch. 1, before her conversion, she walks into a crowd of sailors in Vauxhall who are teasing a woman who has come here dressed as a man – come with me, says Arabella: you are clearly a noblewoman whose current adventure has caused her to wear a disguise. And the woman is so amazed by this statement that she behaves as if Arabella’s belief is true. “The Girl being perfectly recover'd from her Intoxication by the fright she had been in, gaz'd upon Arabella with a Look of extreme Surprize: Yet being mov'd to respect by the Dignity of her Appearance, and, strange as her Words seem'd to be, by the obliging Purport of them, and the affecting Earnestness with which they were deliver'd, she rose from her Seat and thank'd her, with an Accent full of Regard and Submission.” A moment later Mr Glanville is pulling Arabella away and telling her not to “make all this Rout about a Prostitute. Do you see how every body stares at you? What will they think --”

I have a fantasy in which the woman goes home with Arabella and actually transforms herself into the thing that she believes as easily as someone in Powys, or Max Jacob, or becomes something else magically instead. (“At this point, Sir Elizabeth joined the military and was killed.” Jacob, tr. William Kulik.)


Monday, October 17, 2016

this terrible Inundation



Richardson’s contemporary and friend Ann Lennox wrote a book called The Female Quixote, 1752, a satire against – against? - women who loved Madeleine de Scudéry’s Grand Cyrus, 1649 – 53, Cleopatra, 1648, by Gauthier de Costes, Roger Boyle’s Parthenissa, 1676, and other serialised romantic stories. The character Glanville begins trembling in vol. one (“began to tremble”) when he sees “the Girl return, sinking under the Weight of these voluminous Romances.” Courting Arabella the Quixote, he has promised to read her favourite books. “Glanville sat wrapt in Admiration at the Sight of so many huge Folio’s, written, as he conceived, upon the most trifling subjects imaginable.” Imbalance, the underlying subject of Lennox’s humour, lies, in this moment, with the idea that a huge Folio should pay the reader off with plenty of intelligent meat. If the subject matter is light then the size of the book is ludicrous, and Glanville is right to start trembling in the face of an assault. He should not be expected to … he is right to inhabit the same mindset that produces Infinite Jest, a well-packed, bursting big beef flesh parcel … so should we all …

De Quincey in the Opium Eater, 1821, proposing that “the deaths of those whom we love” have more impact in summer because the clouds are a different shape, is, I think, making a more complicated use of the instinct for ludicrosity that Lennox draws on when she wants to make you sympathise with Glanville; the romantic stubbornness and potential vulnerability in the face of possible disgust that also comes into play at the end of this sentence from de Scudéry’s Clelia, 1654 – 1661. De Scudéry is the most daring of them all: she is serious.

This pleasing anxiety proceeding from an amorous Impatience, did nothing discompose his usual temper sometimes clouded by most strange Distractions of his Spirit, which perswaded him some doleful accident might intervene whereby his happiness might be retarded as formerly it had been; for e're this he had Espoused his Mistress had not the River on whose Banks was situated a stately House wherein Clelius resolv'd to consummate his Daughters Nuptials, with such a sudden violence exceeded its prefixed limits that 'twas impossible to solemnize any Feast there during this terrible Inundation, the Waters continually encreas'd for the space of twelve hours, the Wind, Lightning, Thunder, and a dreadful Shower of Rain so multiplying the horrour of this fatal Deluge, that there was generally fear'd a total ruine and desolation: the water of the River seem'd to reach the Skies, and conjoyn'd, with that the Heavens pour'd down, agitated by those impetuous Tempests, roar'd as the swelling Billows of an angry Sea, or the falling of the most rapid Torrents: this violent eruption of the River, much disordered this Region of delight; for it demolish'd Buildings both publick and private, rooted up Trees, covered the Fields with Sand and Stones, levell'd Hills, furrowed the Plains, and changed the whole face of this little Country, but when it had wholly spent its fury, 'twas evidently seen that this inundation had in some places, unburied the ruines of divers Tombs, whose Inscriptions were half effaced, and in others it had discovered great Columns of Marble, with many other precious Materials; so that this place in stead of being deprived of its former beauty, received a more additional lustre from those new acquired Ornaments.

Translated by John Davies and George Havers.



Friday, October 7, 2016

crossed the bar, hove to



On page ninety-two of Wyndham Lewis’ Tarr last week (it was the 1990 Black Sparrow Press edition, subtitled The 1918 Version because the book was published three times during Lewis’ life with changed edits) I had the feeling that I was reading a sentence that had been written to be quoted. Once I went back to it I didn’t know why I would have mechanically (unconsciously, as if in a reader’s adaptation of Surrealism’s automatic writing) picked it out: “People feel with the ‘lonely’ man that he is going about with some eccentric companion, that is himself.” The afterword by the editor Paul O’Keeffe argues against the idea that the character Tarr is the Dostoevsky-Double figure Lewis planned for Kreisler (he wrote Soltyk in that role, O’Keeffe says. “[I]t is surely no coincidence that Soltyk’s original name was ‘Partikoff’”), but when David Trotter reviewed O’Keeffe’s biography Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis in 2001 he recalled that Lewis had referred to someone’s veil as “apoplectic gristle” in paragraph two of the short story Bestre, from Wild Bodies, 1927. When you read that, you know that no matter how many intelligent essays Trotter ever comes across, Lewis will always be his gristle author. Likewise I noticed last night in Saint-John Perse, how this poet of huge landscapes, deserts, wind, and seas, is never able to keep focus without drawing down now and then to a small object: “And the ships taller than Ilion under the white peacock of the sky, having crossed the bar, hove to | in this deadwater where floats a dead ass.” From section IV of Anabasis, 1924, tr. T.S. Eliot, 1938. Also, bees, birds’ eggs.

Lewis doesn’t have a Dostoevskian personality, as an author. His version of the desperate underground man doesn’t strut helplessly. And the writer seems to believe that strutting is justified (at some level other than the Dostoevskian 'soul'), rather than wretched, that Kreisler’s defiance is seriously recognised, not ludicrous.

The most memorable thing about Lewis in Tarr is not that he is reflecting Dostoevsky but that he is brusque. He can write. As always there is Dorothy Richardson talking about sentences that are written to show you that an author is clever, to advertise – sentences that take the place of persuasive branding for the writer. I wondered about an ethics of sentences, and whether there should be a penalty for quotable lines. Would writers take the penalty voluntarily; would that in itself become advertising? The Bulldogs skipper Robert Murphy is trying to get a kind of poetry around himself I think, in the article I read after the Dogs won on Saturday, when he ends an extended use of the word “loch” with the line, “[M]y lot this year means I won't get to lead my boys out in front of the Bulldog clan. That's my little loch that I shall keep locked.” He can expect his readers to know that he is talking about the acl injury that wrecked the upward trajectory of his life in April (removing him from the field) but “my little loch” is rhythm, singing, and not dictionary-meaning, since you can’t lock a lake, but it indicates a space where meaning somehow by suggestion, distinct from words, is.