Tuesday, November 24, 2015

in the vaults they were secure so long as the report prevailed of their being haunted

Now I have a desire to touch on the sensation of melting-away that comes to me when I think of Droste-Hülshoff 's book with its production of murders and then the promise of murderers, and then the absence of the murderers who should be there. The murderers are not revealed until the local Jews cut a curse into a beech tree, whereat two people confess, in different ways and at different times, to the same murder. The two confessors are both equally sincere -- I mean that the author treats them equally sincerely. But they cancel one another out. Droste-Hülshoff doesn't leave behind the same imposition of failed decisiveness that I can feel being slipped into me at the end of, eg, James' Portrait of a Lady. She seems so remote from planning that the reader can even wonder if she is asking anything out of them at all or if they are only imagining an ask. You know that James has plotted his ask; there is a mind aimed at the audience, but Droste-Hülshoff's mind seems somehow alien to plotting.

Giving does not seem to be her intention but withholding is not her intention either.

At one point, after a suspicious axe has been discovered, she gives you a hint that her interest lies in the equilibrium of information: "It would be wrong to disappoint the curiosity of the reader in a fictitious story, but this is how it actually came to be; I can't add or subtract anything from it" (tr. Jolyon Timothy Hughes).

Heidegger, discussing some lines in Hölderlin's poem The Ister, decides that the river, a noun characterised by flowing, is the location of its own absence from its location. As he pursues that thought he is led to the character of Antigone, whose obduracy he describes with a word that the translators McNeill and Davis gives as "unhomely," meaning more or less that she is un-hearthed, or intrinsically unhomed or uncanny. (Hölderlin's Hymn, 'The Ister' (1984), tr. William McNeill and Julia Davis.) She is more unhomely than all of the other personages in Sophocles' play who are only unhomely in a normal human sense. All human beings are unhomely, says Heidegger; they are not at home in the world. "As a human being, she not only belongs to the most uncanny that looms and stirs among beings; rather, within the most uncanny, Antigone is the supreme uncanny." By going further into extremity she inhabits the human state more fully than any other character. So she advances to her death. On the other hand Mudpuddle down there in the comments is bringing up The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book in which the magical ghosts turn out to be bankers.

"But why," said Emily, "were not these pirates contented with the cave -- why did they think it necessary to deposit their spoil in the castle?"

"The cave, madam," replied Ludovico, "was open to any body, and their treasures would not long have remained undiscovered there, but in the vaults they were secure so long as the report prevailed of their being haunted."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

the most dissimilar to all

The effect on my feelings [...] I cannot better represent, than by supposing myself to have known only our light airy modern chapels of ease, and then for the first time to have been placed, and left alone, in one of our largest Gothic cathedrals in a gusty moonlight night of autumn. 'Now in glimmer, and now in gloom;' often in palpable darkness not without a chilly sensation of terror; then suddenly emerging into broad yet visionary lights with coloured shadows of fantastic shapes, yet all decked with holy insignia and mystic symbols; and ever and anon coming out full upon pictures and stone-work images of great men, with whose names I was familiar, but which looked upon me with countenances and an expression, the most dissimilar to all I had been in the habit of connecting with those names.

This imaginary friend is reporting his amazement. Knowing that the Ancient Mariner was amazed, shattered, shocked, adjusted, I'm wondering if this was the poet's vision of an ideal exchange, one party returning from a mind-blower and the other party listening humbly until they are transformed. The action of the Ancient Mariner is transmission. The fake friend tells Coleridge not to rest, the Mariner needs to "pass, like night, from land to land," and the Guest is not completed. "He went like one that hath been stunned." Friend Wordsworth venturing back from childhood. Richardson's Miriam, who has to leave home so that she can earn a living, notices, whenever she takes a holiday back to her old milieu, that she has been modified psychologically because she has adventured out. She knows that she has deepened. But she can't convey it to the others. Their experiences are different now, and her ability to communicate has developed a gap. She wishes people would read the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. "These wonders are brought to our own door." (Emerson, Nature (1836)) John Clare, going out to glean the wood for his brain's nourishment, decides to retrieve the noise of a nightingale. That written transcription is not a poem to him. He never wants to publish it. The words he picks are the same ones that people before him have used when they wanted to show a reader the same bird, "tweet tweet" and "jug jug jug:" established words. What did he go to find? The German poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff transmits her uncle's story and it is not her uncle's story. Born in 1797, four years after Clare, she died sixteen years before him. I don't wonder who killed those men in her Judenbuche (1842). I want to know where Johannes the doppelgänger went.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

choose but hear

Hugh Kenner, mentioning the "peaked cap" that James Joyce gave to the character Frank, drew the reader's attention to a photograph of Joyce with his hands in his pockets on the streets of Dublin, and there, said Kenner, there on his head, was the peaked cap. I realised that I had never thought of real peaked caps as I was reading that story and if I wanted to be honest then the hat in the picture was not a hat that I would have described with the phrase "peaked cap," or not "peaked" because "cap" would have occurred to me; but not "peaked." On other pages in The Pound Era (1971) I was willing to believe that Kenner and myself were in correspondence but with this material evidence reproduced in front of me I could not go along with him and so I watched as the triumph of his discovery appeared to contract in upon him and draw him away from me into a state of distinct separation, like Mars, or like those Greek gods who come down to give you your impulses and problems before restoring themselves to the clouds or to Olympus. What is it about Coleridge that amazes me when I witness the machinery that is his fake friend who wrote the letter in the Literaria, and who was not his friend, and the letter was not a letter but a piece of writing in the same way that other chapters were pieces of writing (ie, written by Coleridge himself), and in fact this letter was replacing the actually nonexistent piece of writing that Coleridge told you he was suppressing in obedience to the opinions of the friend who wrote the letter? He asks you to imagine himself, the essayist, sacrificing his philosophical intelligence for the good of the public, when really he was happy and relieved -- for it was easy to promise a chapter about the theory of "esemplastic power" and then replace it with a letter, he said to his publisher in another letter; it "was written without taking my pen off the paper except to dip it in the inkstand," that panegyric dodge was the simplest and fastest thing to write in the whole book, the most natural thing, just as it was easier for the Ancient Mariner to chuck his stories off on strangers by pulling them up with eye-glittering stratagems than it was for him to establish a mutual conversation in an ordinary tone with sensitive and well-chosen questions about the other person's friends and family. He could have begun by telling the Guest that it was very interesting to hear that someone was getting married and he hoped the bride was nice and by the way here is a story about a bird he shot once; he hopes you don't like birds. (Trigger warning.)

What wish fulfilment is this for the author of the Ancient Mariner, "He cannot choose but hear," followed by a monologue that leaves the one on the receiving end a "sadder and a wiser man" without any of the reciprocation that might have given the poor Guest the satisfying sense that he, too, was an interesting human being in some way, and not just a sounding board, echo-cave, or inadvertent visitor to one of the haunted houses that the shopping centres around here were erecting in their carparks a week and a half ago? What's this gunslinger fantasy of the human amazement who bursts into the frame, shocks the world, then zooms off? The Guest has to make a little struggle before he can be subdued; so too the poet assumes a resistance on the part of the audience as he constructs his easy letter; he invents the "reader who, like myself [ie, the imaginary friend], is neither prepared nor perhaps calculated for the study of so abstruse a subject so abstrusely treated" and "will, as I have before hinted, be almost entitled to accuse you of a sort of imposition on him," "persons [...] who feel no interest in the subjects," and "many to whose unprepared minds your speculations on the esemplastic power would be utterly unintelligible," generally conjuring up the presence of an audience that needs Coleridge to repress his philosophical essay -- which nonetheless is a stunner, says the friend, who has read it, making him the only being in the entire history of the world who has done so, not excluding Coleridge himself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

from the loom of his own magical brain

Maundering about the vocabulary of individualisms I went to pull some sentences out of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1817). “Essence, in its primary signification, means the principle of individuation, the inmost principle of the possibility of any thing, as that particular thing. It is equivalent to the idea of a thing, whenever we use the word idea, with philosophical precision. Existence, on the other hand, is distinguished from essence by the superabundance of reality.” My attention dragged aside by what Oxford University Press in its one of the abstracts for its Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge refers to as the “components of his eclectically derivative corpus and compulsively devious practice,” and like hundreds of other readers I looked at the many ways this man could find to be himself without admitting it, or only admitting it with a hiding-flirting methodology; how the fake friend (who was himself) wrote him a letter so pangyrical that it seemed calculated to make you suspicious though not conclusively accusing; how he prefaced his plagiarism of Schelling by admitting that the words he was about to write were ahemmingly similar to passages from the untranslated System de transscendentalen Idealismus (1800), “many of the most striking resemblances, indeed all the main and fundamental ideas, were born and matured in my mind before I had ever seen a single page of the German Philosopher,” a fig leaf that no one pulled off until he was dead, which is not the same as saying that nobody had noticed.

After this, what was my astonishment to find that the entire essay, from the first word to the last, is a verbatim translation from Schelling, with no attempt in a single instance to appropriate the paper by developing the arguments or by diversifying the illustrations? Some other obligations to Schelling, of a slighter kind, I have met with in the Biographia Literaria; but this was a barefaced plagiarism, which could in prudence have been risked only by relying too much upon the slight knowledge of German literature in this country, and especially of that section of the German literature.

Thomas de Quincey, Literary and Lake Reminiscences (1834-40)

De Quincey forewords with a bit of magic, “Eight hundred or a thousand years hence, some reviewer may arise who having read the Biographia Literaria of Coleridge, will afterwards read the Philosophical ______ of Schelling, the great Bavarian professor -- a man in some respects worthy to be Coleridge's assessor; and he will then make a singular discovery.” The reviewer in “eight hundred” is identical with de Quincey himself. But how is his information going to be smothered again so that it can arrive freshly, as if for the first revelation, in a thousand years? The request for fantasy complicity against a fantasy contaminant is eccentric; Coleridge was eccentric when he plagiarised Schelling*, C. was stealing, de Q. was dobbing on a dead man, both of them hoping to put a hiding smudge over the mark of wrongness, the evidence, the words, the print, the literature, those things that are the reality but not the essence – no -- they can both say – it’s fine, my essence is right -- distinct – (too many men have written books, said Dorothy Richardson, as if they were controlling an impressive science problem).

*”Had, then, Coleridge any need to borrow from Schelling? Did he borrow in forma pauperis? Not at all: there lay the wonder. He spun daily, and at all hours, for mere amusement of his own activities, and from the loom of his own magical brain, theories more gorgeous by far, and supported by a pomp and luxury of images such as neither Schelling -- no, nor any German that ever breathed, not John Paul -- could have emulated in his dreams. With the riches of El Dorado lying about him, he would condescend to filch a handful of gold from any man whose purse he fancied, and in fact reproduced in a new form, applying itself to intellectual wealth, that maniacal propensity which is sometimes well known to attack enormous proprietors and millionaires for acts of petty larceny.” (ibid)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

to selves

Am thinking now vaguely about swarms, "the immense, quivering mass" with "incessant ebb and flow;" the pressure of a person-swarm in Sarraute, the swarm of history in Ouologuem's Bound to Violence, the pessimism inherent in those swarms (the pressure never offering to stop: the swarm continues infinitely). A swarm of figures dies in the Iliad, somewhat (only somewhat because there are so many) sorted and named. The poet is dumb before the majority of the dead. Alice Oswald extracts the names and deaths for her book Memorial, an argument for the dignity of lists. The characters in Woolf's Waves are named too, marching, advancing, not swarming, even though they are conceived in a mass. Reading Dorothy Richardson's Selected Letters (ed. Gloria G. Fromm) I see the writer defending the word "personality" and refusing to use "individual," an utterance that is, to her, so remotely scientific that it does not have the wherewithal to indicate a person. She says she can't let go of aristocrats because at least they are not part of the mass: they are people. "Richardson's fundamental commitment was to neither sexes or genders but to selves," writes Fromm. "[I]t is a story of success that Richardson tells in Pilgrimage, a story of victory over great odds, a bid for selfhood." Her character Miriam navigates crowds and gatherings of people in London; in the mountains of Switzerland she wants to walk among the snowed trees "into their strange close fellowship that left each one a perfect thing apart." (Oberland.) What about Louis Marlow (really Wilkinson) who sorted the Powys sisters into his own Linnean categories?

In the sisters, inheritance of Powys physical characteristics is on the whole rather less strongly marked than it is in the brothers. Philippa, however, is as much a Powys in appearance and in herself as any of them. She is very like Bertie, though she has not quite the same emphatic resemblance to their father as he has. Bertie's elder daughter is thoroughly Powys, and his younger daughter, by his second marriage, is is very like the Powys sister who died in childhood: her little twin-brother astonishingly, and sometimes ludicrously, resembles his father's father. No Powys could be cuckolded without certain detection if the the cuckoldry resulted in the birth of a boy.

A strange construction of individualisms.

Monday, October 19, 2015

suddenly through the gap

Mudpuddle points me back to Sarraute's Age of Suspicion: Essays on the Novel, a book that I have come to realise describes Sarraute's own habits as well as those of the other authors she discusses. Over the course of her career her fiction grew more and more closely into the frame of pursuit she ascribes to Dostoevsky, "these attractions, these feigned withdrawals, these pursuits and flights, these flirtings and rubbings, these clashes, caresses, bites and embraces, to excite, disturb, bring up to the surface and allow to spread, the immense, quivering mass, whose incessant ebb and flow, whose scarcely perceptible vibration, are the very pulse of life."

"This is common for an author," I say to myself, "they see their own reflections," remembering the moment between four and five o'clock on Saturday afternoon when I looked at the preface to a 1951 Oxford edition of Sterne's Sentimental Journey, and noticed that the last owner of the book had written, "herself" in the margin with a pen next to one of the paragraphs. I turned to the end of the essay and the author was Virginia Woolf. "We hardly know what jest, what jibe, what flash of poetry is not going to glance suddenly through the gap which this astonishingly agile pen has cut in the thick-set hedge of English prose," she had written, the other person then beginning their pen-mark at "glance" but "glance" in this book is at the start of a line and I think this is the only reason why they have begun there; really they were reacting to "agile pen." They believe that Woolf had such a pen, and that it cut a gap "in the thick-set hedge of English prose." Later I saw a mark in the same ink next to a place where Woolf quotes Sterne, "I think I can see the precise and distinguishing marks of national characters more in these nonsensical minutiae, than in the most important matters of state," -- but the ink mark leaves out the end of the quotation, "where great men of all nations talk and stalk so much alike, that I would not give nine-pence to chuse amongst them," which may mean that they did not think Woolf had the same opinion of great men that Sterne did, or that it was not germane to their point. Next to it they have written, "All imp. to V.W." On another page there is a squiggled line next to, "It is thus that Sterne transfers our interest from the outer to the inner. It is no use going to the guide-book; we must consult our own minds." This time the person has not written the name of Virginia Woolf or put any note but I believe they are still thinking of her. She is in their minds so much that they have stopped using her name. She is implicit. At the end of the essay they have circled the word "must" in "but enough of must; it is not a word that Sterne was fond of using" and given it a long tail that runs into the margin where they have added, "yes thank heavens." This could mean that they think Woolf is too demanding or it may mean that they want to remind themselves of the thing she has done here in her essay.

If they are getting so comfortable with her that they are leaving out her name then they might have been at the stage where they want to talk back to her as well; stop deviating from my comforts, Woolf. The end of the preface is about to meet us both, I see it coming, I will tell you to shut up now, knowing that you will do it: nice: obey -- and she does. "Both the gentleman and the lady are trying to control the novelist’s perspective so that it shall resemble and reinforce their own," she wrote once, in her essay on Robinson Crusoe. The person who wrote "Asshole" against one of the villains in my copy of Radcliffe's The Italian knew that they and the author were in cahoots.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

one single move to disengage myself

The narrator in The Aspern Papers brings flowers to the women he is trying to game and the people in the Ullman story take flowers away from lunch. That conjunction of flowers reminded me of the ritual idea that I had been toying with, re. the Ullman story – "they approach the lunch," I had been thinking, "as if they were going to a mass" – and so the approach to Miss Tita became, also, "sacrifice and ritual," as the movement of flowers from the garden into the Venetian palazzo became, in my mind, a continuation of the motion of the flowers away from the house in the Swiss village. "By flowers I would make my way."

As I typed out "sacrifice and ritual" I was also remembering that I had decided to avoid the placement of one book next to another when I thought about them and instead talk about one book at a time which I had not d … I can find dodges for myself and is it all right (I wheedle) if I have comparisons that don't lead to conclusions; for example, after reading Sarraute's Martereau I moved to Flaubert's Sentimental Education, which was being discussed at Wuthering Expectations, and when Frédéric leant a large sum of money to another character without getting a receipt I put the book upside-down on a chair with the pages open because the narrator in Martereau had given away money like that as well; and the ending of Martereau was coming back to me, the narrator's knowledge of, and complicity with, the disgust that he is sure the other characters feel for him; from their direction it is subtly expressed but he witnesses it at the scale that the book sees: "I won't budge, I'm too afraid … one single move to disengage myself, to repel him, one single a bit too brusque move, and something atrocious, something unbearable would happen, an explosion, a frightful conflagration, our clothes torn from us, noxious, deadly emanations, all his distress, his forlornness on me" (tr. Maria Jolas). The "him," who is the character Martereau, asks the narrator to respond and move. There the book ends.

This young narrator is physically weak and sick, he can't undertake heavy professions, and so he lives with his uncle's family instead of making his way in the world, but there is not enough rest in the universe for him. There is no rest; there is no place where he can rest. Even when they are sitting and fishing he can be unsettled by one question about a knot. "Is my knot well tied? A fisherman's knot, you must have learnt it when you were a boy scout." With that, and for the millionth weary time, he is asked to consider himself, his being, his knowledge, the context it has when he puts it next to the expectations of other people, their own abilities, their accomplishments, the "tentacles" that they probe him with; and this is hell.

Martereau is Gothic without needing the mountains, banditti, or such large decorations; the scenery has adjusted itself to a river bank by a house and the imprisonment of the narrator doesn't take place in a castle, but the moods of suspicion, dread, the sublime, suffocation, etc, are shared; the medium for that dread in Sarraute is the intrusion of questions and presences; the Gothic is a genre of intrusions and presences – things coming at you – I say to myself, repeating the words – they come mysteriously at and around, they circle – you can't defend -- and there is the distress of elimination waiting for you --

Now if I finish at "putting the book down" there is no intelligent comparison between Sarraute and Flaubert. So, stop.