Friday, September 24, 2010

the real secret and enchanting things

Kimbofo, responding to a Whispering Gums post about kookaburras, provided a link to a page at her blog where she wrote about a David Sedaris essay, Laugh, Kookaburra, a four-page autobiographical piece in which Sedaris, who is American, visits Australia and sees a kookaburra eating duck. The essay was published on the New Yorker website in 2009 with an illustration by someone who, had they lived in a finer world, would have had time to look up a picture of a kookaburra first. "For an American," Sedaris writes, "Australia seems pretty familiar: same wide streets, same office towers ... or that’s the initial impression." On the other hand there is M. also American, who has been in Australia for nearly seven years, and who said on Wednesday that it has taken him this long to realise that there is such a thing is as a distinctly Australia face. On Thursday morning at about half past eight he said he believed that mate was "more functional" than dude, by which he meant that it was more flexible, more, if you like, open to permutation. He deduced this from his workmates, who have been saying the word around him for years. That is how long these things take.

So it is when I'm reading a book, I'm attracted by this thing and that thing at first (the obvious and glinting things, the exotic animals), then I read it again and those things change, they sink back, they stop making an impression, and a different passage comes forward; all of a sudden this new part of the book seems to be the reason for the book. The second time I read Proust I was so taken by the paragraph about Mme Guermantes and the fjords that I read it three times before I went on, but, reading the book for a third time, I found that the fjords made no impact. I was waiting for them, expecting to have the same reaction, but they went past, they vanished, they were superficial, and the book took on a new complexion. (A yellow-tailed black cockatoo sat next to us in a tree on Wednesday evening and M. was beyond nonchalant.) The late Frank Kermode, describing a similar experience, writes about "the more occult part of the memory"

You may begin by admiring certain discrete poems or even certain lines, but when he goes deep into your mind many things that did not consciously impress you arrive in the more occult part of the memory and establish themselves, eventually, as the real secret and enchanting things while the obvious attractions, which are more or less available to everybody, come to seem superficial.

This was my own experience during a long affair with Wallace Stevens ...


An older affair with Yeats left me with colder feelings; precisely what I had thought fine was what I could not longer stand; it caused me something like embarrassment. I have not read Yeats for years, but when I did I read him amorously, which may explain why certain poems especially, but more generally certain repeated locutions and rhetorical tricks, came to disgust me.

The other day I noticed wandering loose in my head, unconnected with any conscious movement of thought, a single line: “But not from her protecting care.” I knew it was by Yeats but had forgotten its context. So I hunted it up, and found it in the sixteenth poem of “Words for Music Perhaps,” called “Lullaby”. ... The complexity and beauty of “Lullaby” had somehow escaped me in the time of total infatuation; and I remember other instances of the same thing. I should certainly have called “Meditations in Time of Civil War” a great poem, but I could not have guessed that the lines which would turn into unpredictable isolated revenants would be, not the obviously tremendous opening and conclusion, but some quiet, anxious words that the younger eye slipped over

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