Wednesday, August 26, 2015

grig grig grig chew chew

I typed an answer to one of Scott's comments and deleted it because it was a comparison between Charlotte Smith and John Clare; it said that Clare could write a poem with some natural thing or event as the subject whereas nature, in Smith's sonnets, was a route that brought her to the subject of melancholy – but I realised what I had done and so deleted – no, I said mentally, consider her singly, in herself, doing this and be inspired by Clare, in his natural history prose, praising some other poet for observing nature in itself, or criticising because the other poet is a city boy who has relaxed himself into a phrase that has been worn in for him by others, not observed, about a nightingale (which is why, when I see Clare saying that he likes Smith for her observations, I imagine him thinking of the phrase "mossy nest" in her poem On the Departure of the Nightingale (1827), "the lone brake that shades thy mossy nest" – for the fact that it puts moss correctly in the nightingale's nest, which is the sort of detail he notices himself; and he will see the same thing eight years later when his verse The Nightingale's Nest is published in 1835.

… no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots : dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair


Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit’s mossy cell.)

Considering then the notion of correct retention, and the matter of considering a thing singly, and my mind goes to his transliteration of a nightingale's song, which was published by Margaret Grainger, over a century after he had written it, from a document that she refers to as MS A58 II:

Chee chew chee chew chee
chew – cheer cheer cheer
chew chew chew chee
– up cheer up cheer up
tweet tweet tweet jug jug jug

wew wew wew – chur chur
woo it woo it tweet tweet
tweet jug jug jug

tee rew tee rew tee rew – gur
gur – chew rit chew rit – chur-chur chur
chur will-will will-will tweet-em
tweet em jug jug jug

grig grig grig chew chew

wevy wit wevy wit
wevy wit – chee chit
chee-chit chee chit
weewit weewit wee
wit cheer cheer
cheer pelew
pelew pelew –
bring a jug bring a
jug bring a jug

I relate this to the other occasions when he records his attempt to "prick" or notate a tune that he has heard a gypsy play on the fiddle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

a thresher & a labouring rustic

Graingerism instead of Frommianism: a policy that I will not keep up in a million years, and might as well chuck away on the spot, but at least the aspiration is good: it looks nice, and I can feel relieved for a second. Grigory Potemkin must have been cheerful. "I'm happy as a cherub when no one encumbers my life with declarations of esteem." (Robert Walser, tr Susan Bernofsky, The Robber.) Margaret Grainger, the editor of the Natural History Prose Writing of John Clare, writes an introduction without symmetry; she explains Clare's influences in a modulated way and she can even write the word "momentous" without being dramatic, like this: "Clare's twenty-seventh year, 1820, was momentous; it brought marriage, publication of Clare's first volume, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, by the London partnership of John Taylor and James Hessey in uneasy collaboration with the Stamford bookseller, Edward Drury, Taylor's cousin; and a visit to the metropolis" – followed by more -- "The poet received his first letters, made visits to the homes of local aristocracy, was pestered with callers to his house seeking 'out of a mere curiosity … to know wether [he] … was the son of a thresher & a labouring rustic,' and was taken by such patrons as Mrs Emmerson and Lord Radstock –" the word momentous is ballasted with evidence until you can relax into the impression that she has written a vision of John Clare as John Clare, and not as a parallel or symmetrical object in opposition to whoever: Wordsworth, John Dyer, or any other nature poet who was around at the time, Clare himself expressing pleasure at the work of Mrs Charlotte Smith (1749 - 1806). "[H]er poems may be only pretty but I felt much pleasd with them because she wrote more from what she had seen of nature then from what she had read of it there fore those that read her poems find new images which they have not read of before tho they have often felt them & from those assosiations poetry derives the power of pleasing in the happiest manner." (Natural History Letter II, c. 1824.)

Sonnet XLII

Composed during a Walk on the Downs, Nov. 1787

The dark and pillowy cloud, the sallow trees,
    Seem o'er the ruins of the year to mourn;
And, cold and hollow, the inconstant breeze
    Sobs through the falling leaves and wither'd fern.
    O'er the tall brow of yonder chalky bourn,
The evening shades their gather'd darkness fling,
    While, by the lingering light, I scarce discern
The shrieking night-jar sail on heavy wing.
    Ah! yet a little--and propitious spring
Crown'd with fresh flowers shall wake the woodland strain;
    But no gay change revolving seasons bring
To call forth pleasure from the soul of pain;
Bid Syren Hope resume her long-lost part,
And chase the vulture Care--that feeds upon the heart.

Charlotte Smith

Thursday, August 13, 2015


When I opened a Dorothy Richardson biography in the library yesterday without reading the name of the biographer and saw, near the bottom of the page on my right, the word "nevertheless," meaning that something was true, "nevertheless" another thing was also true in opposition to the first thing, then my heart exclaimed, "Fromm," and it was Fromm.

By the last page she had decided that Robinson and D.H. Lawrence were not as whole as Woolf and James Joyce (two teams of two, one boy one girl, and I became distracted, for what if, in this book and in no other place, symmetry was necessary, and all arguments should consist of symmetry first and foremost and could this biography of Dorothy Richardson be the mental door to a place where all good things are symmetrical, all faces exactly the same right & left, etc?) – they were not as whole because they couldn't keep "life" out of their books, they kept muddling art with life, whereas Woolf and Joyce had detached themselves purely and determinedly into "art." The second team had made a greater commitment and a more important sacrifice: that was the biographer's conclusion.

The distribution of success and failure is clear but is it illuminating?

Richardson and Lawrence's muddying-with-life usually comes in the form of apparent impatience – they want to push against things and argue – and Woolf and Joyce have placed themselves away from that physical punch-up mode, therefore Lawrence and Richardson have roughly-formed books, pulling away into lumps of lecture or hatred, while Woolf and Joyce have artly-formed books, integrating their arguments coherently, without the blasting, ranting irritation. Whatever feeling they have, they like you to think that they're putting it to work. Whereas Lawrence and Richardson are willing to give you the impression that they are worked by their feelings.

And Woolf might have been thinking along similar lines to Fromm when she said that Richardson was flawed because she wrote from one self-boundaried perspective, that of Miriam Henderson. She was not universal and she did not have a wide view.

I believe it is good to have these lumps of hate and gnashing in books. I am in favour of Lawrence and Richardson. I do not think that they are inferior.

Lawrence and Richardson trusted themselves to the veracity of their lumps, and Lawrence at least was a believer in the "under-consciousness so devilish" (as he said of the United States) and in the eviction of all under-consciousnesses from their chrysalis cases: "many a dragon-fly never gets out of the chrysalis case: dies inside." And he will get out.

To remove the lumps because they are lumps would mean submission to the alien thing called art that they do not entirely trust. They have seen that it can be wielded against them. The biographer says that they have not achieved a coherent art, but they have eyed tidiness and decided against it. That is not art, for them.

So I was in an argument with Fromm, and I wanted to bring up Margaret Grainger, the editor who wrote the introduction for The Natural History Prose Writing of John Clare, in order to say, "Here is somebody who does not write symmetry or "nevertheless," and I prefer her –" but then I would be creating a two-team system, like Fromm, and I would be putting one person against another and ticking off their differences, like Fromm, "The two women wrote introductions, nevertheless Grainger was …" and I would be Frommian, as I was when I wrote the paragraph beginning with "Richardson and Lawrence's muddying …" – absolute pure Frommianism, my God.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

the character of an austere moralist

Fromm puts Richardson in a group with one hand and takes her out with the other: she is not like Christina Stead; she is not like Robert Musil and she is not like John Cowper Powys. "And different as they were from each other, it was their difference from a good part of the rest of the world that brought them together in the first place." Of course I'm wrong at the end of my last post and the essayist isn't summarising the author for people who haven't read Pilgrimage; why would she think she was doing that?

Still the question. Why try to construct this fantasy of a group to which she might belong? I don't have an answer. It's in Fromm's mind somewhere. She imagines a group; she asks herself if the person she is discussing belongs inside that group or out of it. Richardson's husband Alan Odle is not simply tall and thin, he is different from other tall, thin people. "[E]xtremely tall, shockingly thin, cadaverously pale, and exceedingly courteous." Then there is another fact, which she presents as a contrast, "but his brown eyes glowed with intelligence." So removing him step by step into a group of his own.

In spite of the decadent surface, Alan Odle had the character of an austere moralist.

If I am told that Dorothy Richardson is not like Robert Musil then I am being teased with the prospect of her being like Robert Musil. Simultaneously I am reassured that she is not Robert Musil. She escapes. Should it be characterised as an escape? I don't know. Fromm seems tantalised by the way things could have been. Richardson's books "speak the dissenting language of a separatist" but Woolf, her contemporary, "was admitted into the company of the master prose stylists of the late nineteenth century" when she was re-evaluated into the 1960s and '70s, and so she has entered the canon. Powys preferred Richardson to Woolf. Why, when other people did not? Because "the ears of a few readers are attuned to a different music not heard by the rest of their generation," Fromm says. Powys is inside a group of people with attuned ears.

As Duchamp constructed or selected his objects he wrote notes to himself about the "infra-thin." Does that fit here?

It would be better to try to go into the infra-thin interval which separates 2 'identicals' than to conveniently accept the verbal generalisation which makes 2 twins look like 2 drops of water.

Mudpuddle in the comments has made me realise that John Clare's narrative voice never groups him with the farm labourer class he was born into. His poems are endless leisure.

The south west wind how pleasant in the face
It breathes while sauntering in a musing pace
I roam these new ploughed fields and by the side
Of this old wood where happy birds abide
And the rich blackbird through his golden bill
Litters wild music when the rest are still
Now luscious comes the scent of blossomed beans
That oer the path in rich disorder leans
Mid which the bees in busy rows and toils
Load home luxuriantly their yellow spoils
The herd cows toss the molehills in their play
And often stand the strangers steps at bay
Mid clover blossoms red and tawney white
Strong scented with the summers warm delight

(Beans in Blossom)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

waddling with distended craw

I want, when I see Blaine Hill say that the last post reminds him of Macbeth, to write a sentence about Dorothy Richardson that ends with the words "like John Clare," but what would the rest of the sentence look like, that's my question to myself; how should I connect that slight faint feeling that they are somehow sympathetic, to the firmness or thoughtfulness of a sentence? The impression is not firm or thoughtful.* I begin to work out the amount of time I will have to spend talking about the ways in which they are not alike before I will feel entitled to say, "in this respect they are similar."

What is the connection, really: it's only the aheroic sublime that she observes in shabby wallpaper, and the sublime ditto that he finds in ruts or wind, and their mutual stubborn decision to record time passing over these things.

The crib stock fothered – horses suppered up
And cows in sheds all littered-down in straw
The threshers gone the owls are left to whoop
The ducks go waddling with distended craw
Through little hole made in the henroost door

(from Clare's Winter Evening)

But the dark yellow graining of the wall-paper was warm. It shone warmly in the the stream of light pouring through the barred lattice window. In the further part of the room, darkened by the steep slope of the roof, it gleamed like stained wood. The window space was a little square wooden room, the long low double lattice breaking the roof, the ceiling and walls warmly reflecting its oblong of bright light.

(Richardson: The Tunnel)

Opening Windows on Modernism: the Selected Letters of Dorothy Richardson (ed. Gloria G. Fromm) I read this sentence, "And perhaps the Australian outsider, Christina Stead, also bears comparison to Richardson, if not in her political commitment, then in the disposition of her unconventional life;" and I see that it is only there because Fromm wants to place Richardson in a group, even one that does not, she says, function usefully: "sui generis […] But this is a company of originals." Leah Dickerman, one of the essayists I read a few days ago in Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, had the reverse of Fromm's dissimilarity problem: she was arguing against other commentators who have tried to downplay Schwitters's influence on Robert Rauschenberg, hoping to manufacture (the other commentators, not Dickerman) a state of heroic separation where the American artist can thrive freely.

So you have a fret over the debt that one artist should pay to another or be seen to pay to another, and at the other end of the struggle you have the desire to place people in a contextual group (Fromm), a desire that comes from a simple question: how do you summarise Richardson for people who haven't read her?

But then why are they reading her letters?

* This post of mine is not a reflection on Blaine Hill's comment, only on the thoughts I had afterwards.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver

I think over Powys' criticism of Woolf on the grounds of "Life Itself" and wonder if it is a) legitimate because the gap between Life Itself and life-in-fiction is a phenomenon that she often considers on the page and here is someone willing to situate her on one side or the other, but b) illegitimate because I have already seen her decide that she is making art, not life.

It would be intellectually dishonest of her to pretend that a book is "Life Itself;" that's her belief.

But tantalised, she's tantalised. "Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers," says Bernard at the end of The Waves; "Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story –" she'll concede that perfect possession of life is impossible: "Whatever sentence I extract whole and entire from this cauldron is only a string of six little fish that let themselves be caught while a million others leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver, and slip through my fingers." Or: "Out rush a bristle of horned suspicions, horror, horror, horror — but what is the use of painfully elaborating these consecutive sentences when what one needs is nothing consecutive but a bark, a groan?"

The question that she asks of herself is, how should life be misrepresented?

She has already judged Edgeworth, who can't achieve the detachment that she wants from him.* She is uneasy in the face of Margaret Cavendish, "diffused, uneasy, contorted," as well as charmed by her; in the Cavendish essay she comes back and back around the other writer's inability to measure her capacities and be guided by them. "It was from the plain of complete ignorance, the untilled field of her own consciousness, that she proposed to erect a philosophic system that was to oust all others." So there needs to be cool estimation and measurement ...

She invents other modes of symmetry or patterning. She reasserts order. It will be her own order, which she has made, in order to measure and assess and weigh, and also to contain the awareness that measurement is not possible: "How impossible to order them rightly; to detach one separately."

When she is dissatisfied with Richardson's Tunnel she will say that the other author does not measure and asses, "sensations, impressions, ideas and emotions glance off, unrelated and unquestioned;" but Richardson is willing to risk the Cavendish judgement where Woolf is not; she will write from "the untilled field of her own consciousness." She will risk not being witty. A reviewer in Full Stop who has read Viviane Forrester's "strange little book about Virginia Woolf," says that aesthetes prefer wit, therefore literature will be judged for its lightness – Richardson will not do it – and she will drive herself against the sensible realisations of Woolf, about art and life – she will go into the tantalisation – like someone driving their boat down the whirlpool plughole –

* I think he's more aware of romance than she says.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

on where we wanted to go

Why should I compare David Ireland to Virginia Woolf, I ask myself, when there's nothing in common between them, and the difference is so obvious, so absolutely gaping and open, like a chasm or pit; why should they be brought to the same area – because I had his two books in my head and then I read hers; that's why – it was the chronological proximity of my reading. Taking a non-fiction hardback off the shelf at UNLV a few days ago I discovered that the North American author (whoever they were, I'm not sure) had read a number of Australian books and come away feeling puzzled because the authors seemed not to arrange an ambition for themselves and move after it in pursuit; instead they circled around an idea that they did not directly reveal or, perhaps, she suspected, understand. Then the book would end.

The two David Irelands were like that, I thought: this circling around a large unstated balloon (through a mosaic of small scenes) and the ending would be a conclusive destruction.

But he tells you that direction itself is a treacherous idea, and the suspicion he feels towards any purposed motion is one part of his satire; purpose will be thwarted, it's the way of the world. "The Boatman and I were concentrated absolutely on where we wanted to go. We had no mind left over to escape each other. Back and forth we went from side to side, left right left right in perfect time, getting no farther forward; each, for the sake of a tiny inconvenience, wishing the other had never existed." Those are the last lines of The Unknown Industrial Prisoner.

Completeness and intellectual working-through are problems in Woolf's work, according to John Cowper Powys in his 1931 monograph on Dorothy Richardson. It is a strength in Richardson that she doesn't do that, he says. "She takes her place in the great role of thinkers who, like Heraclitus and Goethe and Nietzsche are intent on Life Itself, in its mysterious flowing stream, rather than any human hypothesis of its whence and whither."