Thursday, April 12, 2012

is a monsoon

So Marguerite Young puts her characters together out of contradictions but the element of stability is there in each of them; always a contrast-element in the middle of those stormy fights (detecting fight in the work of the poet Allen Tate: "Tate the truth-seeker of no imperial truth possible or given, explores the richness of contraries and propositions which, each taken to be true, would nullify each other except for their continued presence as a subject of conflict.") Cousin Hannah is the one who climbs mountains, no matter what else she is, and Miss MacIntosh is the one who walks along the beach. Catherine Cartwheel lies in bed. If one of Young's characters meets an obstacle then that obstacle never destroys them or alters them any more than the storm of research destroys the classic novel; the obstacle joins the hurricane and gives the author a new window through which to shine a light at the stable anchor or ground-rooted pole -- on our own sun there are whirlwinds of transparent gas, and if there are no solid objects in the whirlwinds then science can't see them but once a solid is involved then the invisible can be detected -- the same in literature here -- fictional events are solids in the whirlwinds, obstacles are solids, they unveil the contours of winds, they refine the appearances of characters -- the nature of Marguerite Young's book makes these obstacles benevolent -- but Olga Masters doesn't work like that in Amy's Children; her people aren't classical books, and obstacles throw them off course, they swerve, they're impressionable.

Young's characters don't swerve, they plough ahead and trust that their personal gravity will deal with the problem, or not plough exactly because they don't move through life in chronological order, the way Masters' characters do. Young's people don't always know who they are or where they are in time, so say that they hover rather than plough; and when Miss MacIntosh tells the narrator that she's going to establish the primacy of good earthbound common sense she does it by asking questions, almost all of them irrelevant -- "What is a monsoon?" "Where is New South Wales?" "Who was King Canute?" "Where is my brother Richard?" -- which are connected only by the fact that they are factual and that they have factual answers: a monsoon is a real event in the real world and you can in fact describe it -- but this is not sense, suggests Marguerite Young, adding the ridiculous extreme about the brother Richard (a question the narrator won't be able to answer, and I might wonder if all of this woman MacIntosh's questions aren't really some kind of armour or proof of existence or some other thing, each question beginning and ending, each question a short book telling you where the author is positioned), this is not sense, says Marguerite Young, this is a facsimile of sense, and maybe she also says that all common sense is an affectation, it is only apparent not actual, and what else in the world might be apparent and not actual?

Olga Masters' characters have been strapped into time with seatbelts, the chronological car trundles forward and they have to go with it, knocking into problems as they arrive. The car bangs over a bump and their heads shoot up and hit the ceiling. They're bruised but the car keeps going. Young's characters don't bruise anywhere: they easily pick the bump off the road and put it around their necks on a string, saying, Look at my new ornament. Masters' characters suffer the bumps the reader would suffer. I am disguising these people as you, says she. Wallpaper my cracks, says she. Wallpaper their ambiguous parts as you have always wallpapered your own. Or else the reader is not expected to be so interested in other people that they care about cracks. The characters look roughly like people, as the flesh and blood people around us look like people, awkwardly defined and mysterious, and we are in the habit of taking people as they come, in pieces; we do it in real life automatically, so too in books, the habit carries over, the instant leap that occurs when a friend draws three dots and a line on a paper plate and we recognise without hesitating, "That is a face."

Or, another idea, the characters are not there to be understood and mistaken for people but to be absorbed into the brain of the reader, Olga Masters seducing her way in with these imitations so that she can be assimilated, lodging inside like ghost or tapeworm, continuing herself like that, dead Olga Masters, who passed away in 1986. Nine years later died Marguerite Young.

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