Wednesday, November 30, 2011

of what we now know

On Sunday I started a novel by William Heinesen, the same author whose short stories I was reading earlier this year in Faroese Short Stories -- the one who wrote about the two women whose house blew away in a storm -- the author who couldn't mention a man without also mentioning his ship, and then the name of the ship, and then the king of Sweden, and then the king of Sweden's son -- the author who loved digressions -- that one.

The novel starts modestly but gradually it thickens, the characters pile up, their histories pile up, there are several different flavours of everything -- three different Christian leaders (two pastors, one prophet), multiple women dating the British soldiers who are stationed on the Faroes, several ship-owners individually worrying about their fish -- everybody arguing, sailing off, becoming pregnant, dying, falling in love -- and every time someone falls in love or dies it's a new love and a new death, not like any of the rest, and we go inside the heads of cynics and journalists and mystic fox-farmers from Iceland. Then there is the war, which is World War II, people are worried about the Communists, and there is the growing pro-Faroes movement among the islanders, who are subjects of the Danish king. The thoughts of the characters are sketched in quickly and sharply, even crudely, simply, but the simplicity has a purpose; it makes each cast member easy to identify. The subtlety of the book comes not in the fineness of their thoughts but in the variety and shading between competing points of view. And this builds and builds and the story moves along in a bubbling mass.

But I was thinking about Lisa over at ANZ Litlovers, who, in the middle of November, mentioned a Ghanaian Literature Week, held by Kinna over at Kinna Reads, and Lisa had read a Ghanaian short story for this book week, and, coincidentally, I'd been reading Money Galore by the Ghanian writer Amu Djoleto only a month before, and Money Galore was what I was thinking of, in connection with the Heinesen book, which was named The Black Cauldron.* It was the tempo of the two books that I was reflecting on, the way that Money moved in jerks, jumping up one minute, fading out the next minute, and how different it was to the constant bubble of Cauldron, how opposed they were, temperamentally speaking. Because inside each book there is a personality that has nothing to do with the characters or the narrative, and is only concerned with the thickness or thinness of the writing, the speed and start and stop of the sentences, "the particular density with which detail occurs in that writing, the span of sensory stuff in that writing," as David Malouf said once on the radio.

Djoleto writes like a man who had moments of excitement when the story riveted him, moments when he knew exactly what he wanted, followed by moments when he was wandering from A to B and not sure how he was going to get there. He gropes, he repeats. His women characters will enter in a mass of detail, the exact shade of their skin tone will be noted, then their build, but this description will not play a role in their development afterwards, their actions are sketchy, their brains are halfhearted; they become a collection of vaguely sexy presences. They enter with a summary of themselves; the rest is a diminishing of their original essence. We hear passing references to the construction of a new public toilet, and then suddenly the toilet exists, ready to be opened by a politician, and the formal opening is a scene that bounces into focus -- it is a comic set piece. The book wakes up then drowses again. The author gets deeply interested in a headmaster's office, and for a few pages it looks as if this headmaster's school is going to play an important ongoing role in the book, then we go somewhere else, the school becomes background noise, the introduction was out of proportion to its importance.

Money has its own pace, a shout followed by a mumble, or a leap followed by a stall -- a book like a lumpy bed. And I thought, also (my brain walking up West Africa to the chopped-out reverse-L of Mali), of Yambo Ouologuem's Bound to Violence, which has the dense bubbling-pace of Heinesen with a different emotion behind it: the book is one flood of brutality and murder, a tightrope performance on a wire of satirical rage. Heinesen is satirical as well, but less brutal. Both of them will vary the bubbling by taking the reader from a scene with one character to a scene with two or three characters, to a scene with a mass of characters, and then back again. Brutality in Ouologuem is almost absolute, but the flavours of that brutality are so various, so florid, that it becomes both decorative and hideous. Add ennui and it would be Decadent. Mass deaths are followed by more detailed personal deaths and then the miniature story of a dynasty that goes mad and dies. There is gross indiscriminate death and then very precise death. A single kitten is poisoned. A man is torn apart by exactly three crocodiles. One crocodile would have been enough. Two, and you could call it a reasonable amount of competition among natural enemies. But three is just enough to be overkill. The edge of absurdity is tickled with a fingertip.

George Eliot plays this one-character, two-characters, group-of-characters game blatantly in public, devoting whole chapters to one idea or the other -- those groups of men talking in the local pub in Middlemarch, or in the barber shop in Romola, etc -- and then scenes between married couples or family members. Like this she gives us the domestic setting and then the community whose ideas will affect the domestic setting, putting these two spheres of action in proximity. Djoleto doesn't have this ongoing attention to the community; he brings it in when he needs it for a crowd scene and then it's gone.

At the start of the month in a coffee shop I listened to someone giving their opinion on commas (authors used to use more commas in the old days because they didn't know any better, said this person, but now we know better and we take them out), and I thought of this speaker when I came across an editor online explaining that The Man Who Loves Children "breaks an awful lot of what we now know to be rules for good writing" adding "You couldn’t get away with it now" -- and I remember them because I know that if Djoleto had handed in Money Galore during a writing class he would have had it given back to him with marks in the margins, "add more here" "build up to this part" "uneven" "who is speaking here?" and "fix."

But then I hear Ruskin stepping in and saying, no, this unevenness is human, and he tells the story of the glass beads again, and says that he prefers flawed exploratory sincerity to accomplished callow gloss, and he points out that Djoleto wanted to (judging by the story) write about corruption in Ghanaian politics, and behold, he has done that. Would evenness have made the book better? Evenness would have made it even, which is a different thing. It's been proposed that Dante came up with The Divine Comedy because he wanted an excuse to say the name of Beatrice (as lovers love to speak or hear the name of the beloved: see also: Proust) and Money might as well have been written to showcase the opening of that public toilet, a scene that gives us the author's opinion of his country's politicians in one tight burst.**

How do we describe, how do we value, how do we judge? Could I say that Djoleto's book moves like an organism, that it has periods of wakefulness and periods of restfulness, and periods when it wants to sit and fatten itself and periods when it is very lean, and, so, when I'm tempted to describe one of those dense and bubbling books as organic, because I want to do tribute to its motion, its vitality, am I perhaps using the word too quickly and easily, am I disregarding a less flattering idea of "the organic," of life, the life that is not steadily vital, but fades and dies and revives and gasps and dies again ...

Give us uneven beads, says Ruskin the Awkward, devilled in front of his naked wife, give us awkwardness --

*Which has nothing to do with Lloyd Alexander's fantasy novel. Same title but two books completely alien. Heinesen sets his story in a Faroese harbour nicknamed "the Cauldron" and one of the characters makes a sarcastic mechanical diorama-cum-social-critique which he calls "The Black Cauldron," and, therefore ...

Alexander's cauldron is an honest to god necromagical black pot.

** I came across that idea of Dante for the first time in one of Borges' non fiction pieces. If you can get hold of the Selected Non-Fictions then look in the Nine Dantesque Essays section and it should be there somewhere.

Friday, November 25, 2011

in her the peacock-feather-fluttering illusion

After I'd made a post in a thread on someone else's blog I left the house, and only once I'd got to the place that I was going did I sit down, and, thinking back, say to myself, "That last part sounded passive-aggressive."

The word "passive-aggressive" hadn't occurred to me while I was writing, passive-aggression was not my plan, and yet somehow it had been: it was not my creation and yet it was mine. Sometimes passive aggressiveness can only be seen after the event, and then the passive-aggressive person is like one of those soldiers who receive medals for bravery and say, surprised, "It didn't feel brave while I was doing it. It was my duty. It was the only thing I could do. Anybody else would have done it like that too if they'd been there."

There's someone I once knew whose passive-aggressive statements always made me build nests inside for angry wasps, and for the rest of the morning my thoughts about myself were inextricable from thoughts of this other person,* which was tormenting, and so I went on like this, on and on, tormenting myself for hours, until my torment, trying to make sense of itself, lost its purity and frayed out into contemplation, after which I spent an hour and a half in a coffee shop listening to a member of the Unification Church talk about the Divine Principle of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. This person's friend had once seen a manifestation of God (the friend was there too, the description was hers) in the shape of a gold light behind the back of a stranger in the street; it was an area of such intense feeling that she cried all night afterwards, and now in the cafe she explained -- "I couldn't sleep."

"You have been reminded of the back-end mechanics of passive-aggressive statements," I said to myself during the contemplative period, before I met the Unification Church members, "which is a gift, and if you ever meet that old passive-aggressive person again then you will remember this and your irritation will be more complicated, and yet I'm positive you'll still be irritated, because this is a matter of complication and not the erasure of the wound, yes, that's it, not erasure but scab, new cells assembling and weaving together overhead in mat or knot. Turgenev: "Not without reason has someone said: there is nothing more oppressive than the realization of a stupidity just committed." (Rudin.)"

Proust must have felt ashamed sometimes while he was writing Temps Perdu, it's true, he must have been remembering the embarrassment that he translates into fiction, otherwise how could he translate it?** So these experiences, considered from a different angle, are valuable as well as shameful. I thought: I could go back and ask that person to delete my post, but then what? "Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy since you really do not know what those states are working upon you?" Rilke asks the Young Poet. And Walter Benjamin decides that the inhuman thing about Robert Walser's characters is their health from which harsh guilt has been removed. "If we had to sum up in a single phrase the delightful yet also uncanny element in them, we would have to say: they have all been healed." They are fugitives who have left madness behind them, they have found happy sense in their extreme self-effacement -- and if they are healthy then they have preemptively abandoned their creator, who perished schizophrenic in the snow outside a sanatorium years after he had given up writing (picture the characters running away from the sick man), this creator who politely tried to bury them under a snowfall of qualifiers and surprises, which is perhaps passive-aggressive too, towards them, although from the point of view of the reader it is a unique and interesting literary strategy doled out benevolently by the author like bags of very soft sweets. Dying and homeless as he was, he still desperately had sweets.

His characters are suspended, fraying, masklike, domestically agitated -- each one a bunraku puppet, with a frozen face and extra hidden people hovering behind their shoulders.

Not having learned all too much with regard to herself in the course of her not particularly numerous experiences, she proceeded to acquire, on the basis of an income piling up as if playfully or jestingly, a household which featured silver and gold forks, knives and soup spoons and also leafy plants and a number of sofa pillows, and then from here it as a mere trifle for her imagination -- beginning suddenly to awaken or grow active after having slept or reposed perhaps for days or even weeks -- to instill in her the peacock-feather-fluttering illusion, gliding gently past as if upon a river in a boat bedecked with garlands, that she was a sort of Cleopatra longing for viper bites.

(Microscripts, translated by Susan Bernofsky.

Mire it is then, I decided, mire is where I'll stay. I won't ask them to delete it. I'll leave it where it is. With this in mind I returned to the other blog and discovered, looking at another person's response, that the passive-aggressive aspect of my post had shrunk and faded and now the phrases I'd used seemed insufficient for reasons I hadn't even thought about. But that's what always happens.

* If you're reading this then don't worry, it isn't you. The chance of this person ever reading this, or knowing that I've written it, or of you ever meeting them and knowing that it's them (or of them ever suspecting that I've written it, etc), are so extraordinarily tiny that you might as well regard this person as a straw man I've made up.

** At first I wrote "transmuted into fiction" but the humiliating incidents weren't eliminated, only imitated in another form, remaining in the world like an original language, even though everybody who spoke that language is dead.

I've forgotten who translated Turgenev. (I've looked it up. Harry Stevens.) Rilke was translated by M.D. Herter Norton. The Benjamin quote comes from his essay Robert Walser, translated by Rodney Livingstone. You can find Robert Walser bundled in with the Microscripts but it was originally published in the Walter Benjamin: Selecteds. Which means that I've read it twice in two different books in the past two weeks.

Monday, November 21, 2011

crumbling stone

I'm still turning over the potential nothingness of most of Gormenghast castle in my head, so excuse me while I part-repeat myself. I'll throw in a few new words so this won't be totally boring. The castle is huge, according to Peake, but vaguely huge, with miles of stone, hundreds of rooms, so big that it can't be detailed by the author (suggests the author indirectly), and this absurd uncontained hugeness is a part of the structure itself, and so it seemed wrong to me when I saw the building framed by the screen in the 2000 BBC television miniseries as though it were a compassable assemblage like an architectural butte; and if I ever filmed it, I think I would give you a very high high shot, with a patch of green nature in one of the lower corners -- because the reader knows there is a forest and a mountain, and paths running away into them so we need the greenery there -- and the rest of the screen would be rooftops, on and on, tiny, detailed, like grains on a beach (but then you will remember that people as large as yourself are living under those grains and your brain will pitch forward and slew around in terrifying vertigo), rooftops covering the rest of the screen, taking up one whole wall of the theatre where you're sitting, which for the effect I want should be an IMAX. And you will feel as if you are falling forward and drowning.

Then we will have Gormenghast wallpaper, which will be the same thing, with the blot of sward by your pillow, or by the sink or by the dog bowl or television or whatever you want, (depending on the room, depending on your furniture) and the rest of the four walls will be nothing but detailed tiny fields of tiny tiles, each tile absolutely delineated and in black and white to make it more unreal and disorienting.

Or else nothing except one small area of detail, measuring less than a cubit square as you will be able to see when when you put your arm against the wall, and in here the story in the books takes place, and beyond that a void with words sketched across it, "crumbling stone," "vistas" and so on, just these thin lines of sketch stretched across the whistling gap to keep it from dropping away. I thought, "If he is writing then he is compelled to name, there is no way to write and not name something, which is perhaps why it had never occurred to me before, this idea of the castle being nothing." Every word either names a thing or prepares it for placement, the ors and buts and verbs and thens being the design and scaffolding, and then the nouns bringing the thing about and submitting it to a category of existence, pin, leg, moose, or table, and even if I write, "There was no moon" (as Beckett does somewhere in Molloy, I think) I have still named a moon and created a moon, and then I tell you that my created moon is somewhere else, which is what I would expect you to understand when you read "no moon" -- not "the moon had stopped existing" but "the moon existed and it was not visible in the sky right then."

I can't deny the moon. I have named its absence, but then I haven't, because I've still named it and not the phenomenon of not-it, which needs a hyphen, "There was a not-moon," or a newly minted word, "There was an unmoon." It was an unmoonish night, I say, and not very starrish either.

"Unmoon? No such thing. Means nothing to me. Pointless," says the reader probably. Can you write about an object in a way that removes it? And then there is Romola's flashing eye, which has a strange existence. If we were somehow in the room where these two people were staring at one another we wouldn't expect to see the flashing eye (am I being presumptuous? are there readers who seriously expect flashes? I'm wary of this "we" but on I'll go) because the rest of the book around this scene has been written in a way that signals Realism. Film it, and we'd see the woman sitting, we'd see her turn her head to her husband, we'd see him put his keys in his scarsella, all of these would be real events, in the terms of the fictional-real, but the flashing eye would be symbolic everywhere, and the flash would go away instantly and live in one of the rooms that Peake never visits.

And once when I was standing on one of the upper floors of the Leid Library at UNLV and looking through a window at the horizon I saw a yellow strip at the feet of one mountain, an area of open desert between the city and the foothills, and then because I was so tall at that moment I saw the desert on the other side of the same mountain, which was the same barren tawny tiger colour, and in that moment I imagined leaving the building and travelling over the mountains, and going and going like Voss, and finding nothing there, until realising finally that the only patch of detail in the world was the city of Las Vegas, and there is nothing else out there at all, no world, no northern hemisphere, no sea, only Las Vegas, and the rest was only the rumours that had come to us through the internet and books, somehow generated by the city itself, which likes to keep us here with the desert cutting us off like an axe from something else, which is maybe Gormenghast castle.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

enough to go round

Almost every morning I type Christina Stead's name into Twitter to see if anyone has posted a link to a new review or article and this morning for about the millionth time I came across somebody tweeting this quote from House of All Nations, "If all the rich people in the world divided up their money among themselves there wouldn't be enough to go round." It's really a slight misquote but you can say that for most of those lines that get quoted and requoted, "Play it again, Sam," and so forth; people like to sleek down the fluff, a human instinct for tidiness and tool-handiness steps in, and Stead's "amongst" becomes "among" by process of natural evolution. (At least one of the old desert washes under the Las Vegas Strip now feeds into a roadway that slopes down from both sides into the centre -- a street that is also a river -- and either way the rain has a place to rush.)

And I wonder sometimes if the people who post that quote ever want to know how the rest of the words on the page stand around it, the context, the bedding, the rabbit hutch through whose wires that quote's eyes melancholy stare, etc, etc, so I'm going to write down the paragraphs it sits in, on the off chance that anyone out there ever comes searching --

The scene: Michel, an intimate subordinate of the French banker Jules Bertillon, has told his employer that he spent a recent commission on "fifty German Communist books for my library." Then:

"Hey I thought you knew enough already," said Jules, just as suddenly restored to good temper. "I'm surprised at you, Michel, being such a mooch for the Reds. Stalin found out that the workers don't know what to do with money. That's all right. It isn't the Stalins that bother me. They know their game. But a man like you, Michel! A guy makes the money he can. Anyone who doesn't is a bit crazy. If there were the difference of a hair in your brain, Michel, you'd be batty: you'd be standing on soapboxes. That's a tomfool idea to want to try to make everyone rich by confiscating from the smart guys who know how to get out of the tangle early! Why, if all the rich men in the world divided up their money amongst themselves, there wouldn't be enough to go round! It all proves there are constitutional dreamers -- they're sick; you're sick, Michel.

'I say, don't you realize if you gave everyone the same amount of money today, in a fortnight, somebody, some Citroën, some Oustric, some De Wendel would have got half of it back! You're too intelligent, Michel, not to see that! Why, types like me only think in money. Why, take me. When I take off my pants I'm thinking up a gag, when I make water, what the deuce! I'm asking myself why I didn't take a crack at the cheap crook who tried to do me in yesterday. I dream all night and I get up at three o'clock to write down all I've dreamed because there are good schemes among them. When I wake up I think of a check with a big figure if I'm good-tempered, and of petty cash if I'm out of my humor: big or little, but I only think of money. How can the workers beat a man like me?"

House of All Nations, page 102, Scene: Twelve: The Revolution

Angus & Robertson: third printing: hardcover: 1974. First published, 1938.

Bertillon is one of her mad, massive, force-of-nature characters, like Sam in Man Who Loved Children, or Nellie in Cotters' England.

I'm inserting an edit here in early December to say that this is the first time I've seen the quote tweeted in Thai. It looks like this:

ถ้าคนร่ำรวยทั้งหมดในโลกแบ่งเงินทองของพวกเขาแก่กันและกัน จะไม่มีเงินพอให้แบ่ง

Sunday, November 13, 2011

paused and turned her eyes on

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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

had held at bay the illness

As I was finishing this sentence about Titus Groan in my last post, "How many rooms does the reader never see because no character visits them?" it occurred to me that the answer had to be "None" and "Innumerable." Titus, in the third book of Peake's trilogy, removes himself from the castle and runs into the wide and open outer world, but the author keeps restoring him to enclosed spaces, putting him in a prison cell, or an underground tunnel, or a car, where he usually acts against one other key person, Old Crime in the cell, or Veil in the tunnel. He enters from the wings of one of these stage-areas, exchanges dialogue, then exits to another stage. This two-way opposition works in the other books as well, where you have Flay against Swelter, or Prunesquallor exclusively talking to Gertrude, but Titus Alone is unique in that one side of the dialogue rarely changes. It is usually Titus. He is the static force now, he is Gormenghast castle, the object that carries through the story from one end to the other.

He is trapped and released and trapped and released and trapped again. (You could even argue that the endings of the last two books are being mashed together and relived, mashed together and relived. End of book one: Titus is imprisoned. End of Book Two: Titus escapes from that prison. The body of Book Three: ditto ditto ditto. So that Titus Alone is not a sequel to the other two books but a compression of them, their anthology or compilation tape.)

An alien society is surging somewhere outside the walls that the author keeps putting in place around him, or at least that's my feeling when I read the book -- this surging, this muttering -- the strange culture exists and it has its own rules and laws, it picks up the young man and puts him in a courtroom, then shuttles him into the cell, then persecutes him, but the mutter of this society is happening apart from him; it happens outside and away and it touches him only to harm him, and otherwise it's foggy.

To extend the idea of a stage: this society is the audience gathering in the theatre foyer during the interval to make a verbal judgment that can be heard perhaps dimly through the walls backstage, and the actors come out again at the start of act three to meet this judgment, not knowing what it is. Titus emerges onto the stage, he gestures dimly against judgment, he sulks, strives, panics, and runs to evade it.

Peake wrote a stage play, hoping to make money, but "The reviews were not good," states John Watney in his biography Mervyn Peake, "the work of seven years wasted; the magic wand that was to solve all their worries had broken." It had a short run and he received seventeen pounds. "He had expected too much from it, he had worked too hard on it, and had held at bay the illness that had started to take hold of him."

The next work he finished before "the illness" broke him down irrevocably was Titus Alone, and the characters keep returning to these stage-areas, they present themselves on stages again and again, and the book's writer-character, who squats behind mouldering remaindered copies of his novel in the dark Under-river, is a pessimistic object; he is set up next to his failures, they are on display; and Titus is sent to the Under-river by his author to witness this failure and misery, and to fight an evil pimp named Veil.

Titus fought a different man in the previous book, and won, but now he isn't saving his homeland, as he did in Gormenghast, he goes to commit murder because the other soul disgusts him (as Steerpike did: it is important to Peake that the fight be subrational), and he fights in order to rescue a sick woman so that she can be allowed to die as she wants, on clean linen. Veil is foul in the author's estimation, morally filthy; this is a battle over the clean and the unclean; she dies on clean linen but she is still dead, a small wish is granted but nothing is saved, unless you consider Freud, and the idea that the most independent wish of every life is to control the manner of its death, and yet she didn't control it, she didn't command it, she only wished for it, and it was only through the intervention of a stranger that the wish was fulfilled. It was a ruthless culture that damaged her, and a ruthless culture that pushed her saviour down there to put her on a flawless pillow, which kills her instantly.

I don't have the book with me, so all of this might actually be wrong.

On the subject of that flawless pillow: notice that clean things in Peake are often dangerous. Swelter's axe is clean. Steerpike is clean. The evil technology in Alone is sleek and neat. Fuchsia is messy and harmless. But the Doctor is clean too, and we even see him taking a bath, so I can't say that Gormenwashing is universally bad. Whimsical washing versus serious washing? (The Doctor plays in his bath.)