Thursday, May 21, 2015

born not made

I was reading Tom’s blog when I came across the Trout from Little, Big being described as a gateway between different states of the world, which is true, but it made me think of the moment at the end of Crowley’s Four Freedoms when a few of the characters are travelling down a road with a dog and suddenly he shows you Dorothy, Toto, and the others from the Wizard of Oz.

Inside that phrase the characters were present to me for the first time in the story (hundreds of pages long); I could see them radiating outwards in that state of transition, dimensionally lit, and undergoing a motion that was important. They had been jerked unstuck from their realistic narrative onto the same plane that the people in Little, Big occupy from the beginning of their book until the end: they were vibrating between realism and archetype.

In the last chapters of Little, the characters will move finally to the place that represents one of those two states and the suggestion is that they’ll stay there: this is the time for the book to close down, the trembling action of its being has been transformed into a new, less trembling, action, with which it chooses not to deal. With a fairy (says the book without using the word) you can say that it is one thing and also, equally truly, say that it is the opposite of that thing: they are “born not made” but also “made not born,” and so on: they are precise and imprecise – in short, the essence of a fairy, understood from the real world, is a motion.

So I began to wonder how often the noun in Crowley is superimposed into a verb, if you want to put it that way: the movement, the travel, the state of being not in one place, not in another, is made to seem three dimensional because it is named Trout or Dorothy, in contradiction, you’d think, of its smoke and mirrors presence. And yet the motion not arrested by this noun but active, in fact positively conjured by the association, made into a solid point, but a solid point that draws action into it and through it, specifically the action of travel.

Friday, May 15, 2015

sure to put off many

If ER Eddison ever did suffer the comprehension that I assigned to him two posts ago, that vitality is inhabiting the structure, then is he correct; a question that questions the word ‘inhabiting’: is the vitality inherent or is it interpreted? Interpreted. It’s too easy to find comments from people who either struggle with him* or else feel afraid that other readers won’t get him. “Most importantly, the reader must be prepared for the novel’s Elizabethan language,” says a Goodreads writer named Edward Butler. “Written in a style that is sure to put off many,” says Jesse at Speculition. “[I]t is written in sixteenth century English and requires effort to understand” -- from a writer at a website called Skulls in the Stars. What I learn from these reviews is that a person who has read Eddison will often worry that other people will not be able to imitate them. To read him is to have this fear: I am lonely.

He said he would rather be read over again by hundreds than once by thousands. With the words, “be prepared,” “requires effort,” the reviewer is recounting the danger of their own escape. They were nearly weeded out by the language but they made the required effort and got through. The trophy is this: they can write a review.

*“I kept having trouble getting into the rhythm of the forcibly archaic language,” from a Goodreads reviewer named Eero.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

a battle-cry reminding the hearers of the long story

I was reading the Giramondo reprint of Murnane’s first book, Tamarisk Row, when I entered into an impression, and “entered” is more or less what it was like, as if I had left one frame of mind completely and come into another.

(The book itself has an opinion about the nature of being placed and trying to identify the presence of a place but this is not an attempt to create that kind of link between Murnane’s ideas and mine.)

It was the kind of impression that I have had before, and the words that give it to me will only work that way once. I was part-way into this sentence on page one hundred and seventy-three. “For a few minutes he enjoys the revelation that this one name among sixteen, Hills of Idaho, which people have spoken aloud so often with no special sonority –“ & here I felt, rather than imagined, the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. I had an idea that the only purpose of this speech was to explain that people who had never bothered to think about St Crispin’s Day before were, from now on, going to put it at the forefront of their intelligences every time it appeared on the calendar. At that moment, swollen with the connection, I didn’t think of any reason why they were going to be impressed by the day, only that it was going to suddenly become instantly important.

But why … and now I trust that I had detected, out of the corner of my eye, without knowing it, some words that only appeared to my conscious reading mind after I had gone on further in the sentence, down one line to the words “battle-cry” and then the word on the line after that, the word that I believe was the crucial word, “band.”

-- may in future whenever it is spoken ring out like a battle-cry reminding the hearers of the long story of how a little band of men never stopped believing that their day would come.

Now I could see the silhouettes of soldiers on a beach. For a moment I couldn’t place it, though I knew it was a film or television show of some kind. It was the advertising for an American television serial, Band of Brothers, which I had never watched. I was actually conflating it with The Pacific, which is also about American soldiers, but in The Pacific they visited Melbourne, and so I recalled it more specifically, because this was the only thing in either series that was interesting. I haven’t seen The Pacific.

The connection between the soldiers on the beach, the sight of a man on a stage reciting the St Crispin’s Day speech, and my copy of Tamarisk Row seemed genuinely mystical to me for a time, and somehow unrelated to the acts of writing or to speech or to any act that would have created the words on the page in front of me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

hold by the material

So that was volume two. In volume three he does, Eddison, in fact, make lists of objects in the real world, but always for the sake of loveliness, loveliness, until I want to suggest that this formula itself is loveliness to him; it is the flesh of his impressions, and I think about the satisfaction that he might have felt as he wrote it out once again, and the objects moving almost bodily past his senses as he spelt their names, each instance of the lovely listing motion reinforcing every other instance by reminding him of it -- "green lawns and flower-beds and trim deep-hued hedges of clipped box and barberry and yew: long rows of mullioned windows taking the sun, whose beams seemed to have fired the very substance of the ancient brickwork to some cool-burning airy essence of gold" – the author feeling as if vitality was inhabiting the structure, which, like music, is expected to uphold the substance of its lyrics by transcending them.

I want to say that his books are elegies that refuse to be elegies, they will not give in, the author reaches the end of the story in Ouroboros and decides that there will be no end; a wish is granted, and the characters in chorus decide that they want to have it all again in a cycle and on and on forever. Which places a contextual weight on the phrase “nobody wants” in that sentence from his letter, “A very unearthly character of Zimiamvia lies in the fact that nobody wants to change it.” The society in Brave New World has that "unearthly character" too, and the same goes for 1984 – Eddison and Orwell and Huxley were publishing within a few years of one another – oh – but -- in Orwell and Huxley the disruptive force, when it comes, is heroic and singular, in Eddison it is misguided, habitual, thoughtless, wrong, bad, and en masse.

Here is a problem that he has created for himself: Eddison wants his characters to be active and free.

Yet, at the same time, static in Valhalla.

Choice, freedom; he needs them to choose freely to stay, just as the characters in Ouroboros choose their revolving fate. So! The king invites a number of people to dinner (“All the company were in holiday attire”) and asks them what they would do if they could build a new planet from nothing. The response from the first several of them is: I would have it like this one. “I, too, hold by the material condition. This world will serve. I’d be loath to hazard it by meddling with the works.”*

It’s not until one of the people at the table teases him by taking up the challenge, “and some bell of mockery chimed in her lazy accents,” that the real world is created. “Much like [Zimiamvia] but crooked.” They try it out. And Eddison can go on to say that the real world is one that the best of them (the god-monads) don’t want.

Eddison, Orwell and Huxley agree on the desirability of choice but not on the purpose of it. 

*The presence of the king complicates their assertions because it would sound like treason if they told him they wanted a change, but when the Vicar (normally a liar, and definitely plotting) says “this world fits, I ask no other,” he is telling the truth in spite of himself.

Monday, April 20, 2015

stag-headed men, winged lions

Will, will ... and now I'm re-reading E.R. Eddison -- the second of the Zimiamvia books -- whose characters have a more basic and elevated sense of will; they are kings and ladies waging war bravely, and very ruthlessly and gaily, staring calmly at death; and they are a little like Malory but less fallible, much less fallible, because the fall in this fantasy world, the end of this one form of the social order, is not the collapse of a loving clique. It is betrayal by someone whose utter nature is betrayal, as we have known ever since he was introduced, and the person he betrays knows it too, and ditto the betrayer’s sidekick, his family, other members of the nobility, the people he has made treaties with -- nobody trusts him -- and so you cannot say that it is a shock. And yet Eddison makes a similar point to Malory, that what he calls "beatitude" can't survive in the world as it is. His fantasy world "is like the sagatime, there is no malaise of the soul." So he said in a letter. "A very unearthly character of Zimiamvia lies in the fact that nobody wants to change it."

He lists lovely things in the fantasy world but not the real one (when his characters are in the real one):

Hedgehogs in little coats he beheld as household servants busy to bear the dishes; leopards, foxes, lynxes, spider-monkeys, badgers, water-mice, walked and conversed, or served the guests that sat at supper: seals, mild-eyed, moustachioed, erect on their hind flippers and robed in silken gowns, brought upon silver chargers all kinds of candied conserves, macaroons, fig-dates, sweet condiments and delicate confections of spiceries; and here were butterfly ladies seen, stag-headed men, winged lions of Sumer, hamadryads and all the nymphish kind of beck and marsh and woodland and frosty mountain solitude and the blue caves of ocean: naiad and dryad and oread, and Amphitrite’s brood with green hair sea-garlanded and combs in their hair fashioned from drowned treasures of gold.

And wants to enchant you with precision, which opposes him to the "always" that Dorothy Richardson was criticising in that quote a few posts ago. The always in his work is a now. Now there is a hedgehog. Now there is a hawk and it is hovering over a field where there are poppies. Now there is a diamond on a column. And seems to grasp hold of this presence so desperately, with these rows of notations, like gravestones passing by me as I read. So that it is like walking through a cemetery.

Richardson, on the other hand, wants to integrate a beautitudinous frame of mind into the world as it is, or perhaps I'll say that the fantasy is just better disguised in her book and not naked; Eddison's books with their longing on display are naked in that sense but not naked in other ways; the characters are invulnerable. They’re inclined to the fastidiousness that is a sign of will in Richardson as well, that casually hyperattentive ability to feel that a certain XYZ is right and therefore it must occur. One man, Lessingham, released from a dungeon, tells a servant to take his shirt away and burn it, because a shirt that he has worn in a dungeon is not a shirt that should exist. This is in the middle of a thousand other things that are going on and you’d think they were more important than the shirt but the detail of that shirt is necessary to his well-being – not just thrown away but eliminated. And these wills are holistically perpetual, and they need to endure as they are for the authors' peace of mind.

(How can I guess that? Because they both reinforce them so often, and they are both so aware that they are fragile events that need to be protected. The real world, in Eddison's book, exists in a zoo-cage bubble that can be popped with a hairpin, but the reader knows that this is the opposite of the truth. It is the book itself that can be closed away, and that will exist only in the memories of the people who have experienced it.)

In Villette though (going back to that), the invulnerable will is in danger of being melted and that is deeply exciting, not bad nor good but both and neither -- which in Eddison would be an unambiguous disaster, I think you can say, after reading that letter -- the will, in Vilette, is embattled from the inside of the body it lives in – it – may – concede to the outside – and then – some miracle -- the fall is not a fall but a swooping-up. (Will, character, and worldly pressure, are going to war in that book.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

alone, I grew calm

It might be simpler to say that perception in Dorothy Richardson's work is aligned with will, though this will never shows its real character to anyone outside the human being whose exercise is its life; to others it can be understood as stubbornness or as intelligence. It never tries to control or force anyone because it is the most undictatorial will in the world, and you could even call it anti-dictatorial, for freedom and calm are two of the conditions it is working for, and dictators are never free or calm.

Miriam knows that her job is perfect because it absorbs her intelligence and attention without asking her to be in command. The wage is enough to keep her living independently and that is what she wants. More money would be fine but not supremely important. It's not worth the price.

(This will is clear about its priorities, which translate themselves into all areas, so that the money-feeling, when she applies it to the women's independence movement -- this is in the very early 1900s -- becomes disquiet and conflict, because, a woman who has the vote, will she be distracted by the requirements of command, and drawn away from her essential absorption in the world, a problem that Richardson sees afflicting men, who are too tempted by grand sentences and falseness when they write -- their style -- she believes -- the elegant, forceful, exciting style and appealing contrived plottishness -- is a peacock symptom, "lollipops for children," and the only way to write closer to the world as it is, is to avoid it ...)

I have seen the form of a will like this in characters before, I tell myself; and think of Louie in The Man Who Loved Children, who practises her self-determination without knowing why (anticipating that it will be useful), and Lucy Snow in Villette, who is watching everyone from a position apart, and aware of being apart, and feeling in herself the work that she does to defend that apartness, since it is her nature -- "Once alone, I grew calm, and collectedly went to work" -- but Miriam in Richardson's book is the one who invents an articulate purpose for the Lucy-like nature, though this higher calling is internal, and rescues no one except her; and is unable to rescue them.

So Richardson has two points to make about this kind of will: 1., it is the most precious thing in the world, and 2. it is useless.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

alone and unchanged, however surrounded and accompanied

Reading the first of Knausgård's six volumes I remember John Pistelli's post about the similarities to Richardson's Pilgrimage (Anthony linked to it on twitter) and feel uneased by the comparison -- not the details of the comparison, simply the fact that the comparison exists -- seeing, strongly, the two writers placing themselves distinctly in separated isolation, and their views of themselves different, Richardson serious about her "joy," diagnosing a tragic abdication of people from the challenge of joy and believing that it is her duty not to abdicate from joy (not questioning that assumption but trusting it) ; and therefore working, working with a conscious effort to maintain her own access, having a plan for it, avoiding marriage because of it, living and walking in places where she hopes she will find it -- whereas Knausgård describes himself as a haphazard clown who has the vaguest ideas about anything that he might want, and almost no plan to get it, feeling desires instead of plans; he would like to be cool ("cool" is his word, in the translation by Don Bartlett) but he is ordinary; he does everything that he doesn't want to do; he is "feminine" when he wants to be masculine, he cries when he doesn't want to cry, he is a bad musician when he wants to be a talent, he capitulates to people, he has studied art but he can't tell you why he likes a painting ("It was a fantastic picture, it filled me with all the feelings that fantastic pictures do, but when I had to explain why, what constituted the "fantastic" I was at a loss to do so" -- where Richardson will tell you how she comes to appreciate a piece of music); his little success in journalism is an accident and he junks it by being cocky, then he knows that he has been cocky: his cockiness is revealed to him: and his humiliation is constantly revealed to him and refreshed with a new event as if this is Fawlty Towers and he is Basil, "I was getting drunk too often, and I did not flinch from harassing someone once I got the idea in my head," also with Basil Fawlty's pettiness: "Usually something to do with their appearance, or small, silly mannerisms that I might have observed."

Richardson meanwhile perceiving transcendent vigour or insight in "small, silly mannerisms," and the transcendence of the world is up to the person who is perceiving it, that's her belief : anything is some sort of gateway, even a bit of light; and there is a question of things having or not having a hold -- "Immediate things had lost their hold" -- whereas the hold-having for Knausgård has dissolved with childhood; it is impossible now, he is too adult. The petty emotions in her can flow into a whole, and are restructured by their relationships: "But even as she felt this jealousy's deep-seeking manipulations, the vision of Amabel alone and unchanged, however surrounded and accompanied, sent it to its death [...] Released, she could seek those to whom she belonged."

She has what you could call a better self. She can be rescued, she can rescue herself, but he can't, and here is part of his clown atmospheric in My Struggle, the impossibility of self-rescue, and the undisciplined disappointment of that.