The idea of a theatre in the last post didn't come from Peake. I was trying to work out something around a sentence in George Eliot's Romola. The sentence goes like this: "Her eyes were flashing, and her whole frame seemed to be possessed by impetuous force that wanted to leap out in some deed." Romola is the person with the flashing eyes, and she is flashing them at her husband, pausing while she flashes, staying still: "Romola had paused and turned her eyes on him as she saw him take his stand and lodge the key in his scarsella." It's this contrast between stillness and action that stopped me, the body tensing (that is how I picture her "possessed by impetuous force") and all the dramatic movement being placed in the eye.
Around a real eye the muscles pinch and go taut or loose, but the eye itself, the genuine eye, stays round and non-indignant, rotating slightly in the socket but not moving in the free way that a hand or a leg moves. The face moves, the cheeks move, the lips are narrowed or fattened, the angle of the chin changes, all of this goes into a facial expression, but the eyes on their own, flashing like lightbulbs or fireflies -- never, never, never. Two bits of wet and glass. The fictional eye is more flexible. Every real eye wishes that it could be fictional.
I was trying to sketch out a difference between Peake's characters (who take their eyes into a room and then the author sees the room), and Romola, whose eyes are performing a movement of their own without the help of a moving body (the force of them is throwing itself at her husband, they're walking forward and grabbing his shirt). "She's stuck in place, she's still, she's like a what, like a building containing two objects, like a theatre," I thought, "with her eyes like two actors."
She is a presentation-box and her eyes are onstage. Her eye is expressive. The fictional flash is a concentrated emotion. I've seen fictional eyes flash before. The most modern example I think I've read is the one near the end of the first Dune Prelude. One character loses her temper and "Her eyes flashed fire." The flashing eye is always sure of its object. It flashes at someone. The person with the flashing eye is having her emotions obviously. They are clear. (Emotions are not often this clear.) It's as if she's given him a photograph of her mood, look, here it is, unmistakeable. No more work is required. She doesn't have to move a muscle. Romola doesn't actually need to tense her body, or tremble, or perform whatever subtle action it is that suggests the "impetuous force." The character is in fact disabled. She is fixed in place by her emotions and she is therefore harmless.
The author has borrowed the attributes of the entire body, all of its expressive moving power, and given them to the eye. The flash is a fantasy of an effective action that is not taking place.
The flashing eye stays where it is and directs its rays outward. There must be absolute puissance within for the eye is charged like a battery. Most surprising: the owner of the eye is not exhausted and does not collapse. She has moved beyond doubt and now she transfers this lack of doubt to the other party. His job is to know that she is angry. A human being who has lost doubt has moved briefly away from the physical realm, where multiplicity and confusion is normal, and onto a high plane of ideas, where clarity can be obtained. Therefore the flashing eye becomes unnatural. The globe spits out a straight burst of light. A flash of light is spearlike, dry, active, it is not a soggy bobble, it isn't stuck in a bone cup and laced up with meat.* Free and direct, it is maybe Romola's hallucination of herself, just then, as she sits, congealed, locked inside a cage of horror, facing her husband, who has done something terrible.
When Romola's eyes flash she is primarily her eyes, she has absconded from the rest of her body and left it standing empty, and if you could extract the eyes right there in the book and put them in a cage then you would have her like one who had captured her ghost.
* Maybe the eye is productiveness in Walter Benjamin's formulation and the flash is effectiveness: "Effectiveness and productiveness are incompatible. Dampness, closeness, vagueness in productiveness; dryness, outline, distance in effectiveness." (I'm borrowing this from a fragment called "Notes (II)" in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2: Part 1: 1927-1930. Rodney Livingstone translated.)
I don't have the Dune Preludes here to check that line (it's somewhere near the end of House Atreides and she's arguing with Leto if you want to look it up) but I'm almost sure of that flash.