Sunday, April 1, 2012
no one way to account for everything
Signs of prosperity change over time: a tallow candle would still have you prosperous today but only because we can see you have money to waste on stumps of efflorescent fat; your eyes love the drips, that black draft is romancing your pocket. Some signs of prosperity do not change; when Olga Masters's Amy can move out of her aunt's spare bedroom she is richer than she was when she couldn't, and that same state of affairs pertains today I swear, even among the Irish flag people and the one dressed as Saint Patrick, although for most of the day I thought he was the Pope. Wuthering Expectations has been thinking about the classics, a canon that has been kneaded to the point where, says a poster at Jillian's Classics Club challenge, the word classic can be applied to Harry Potter if you want, and who am I, asks the poster, to argue otherwise? Who am I? Mr Spitzer in Miss MacIntosh asks the same question and he is actually his brother. "There is no unshakeable law of mental life," wrote Marguerite Young in her profile of Marianne Moore. "There is no one way to account for everything," she says, accounting for Marianne Moore in a single way which is hers.
So the Classics Club challenge is not to read a static thing called classic but to read a book that can be described as a classic in words that convince others and maybe yourself. Your job is persuasion. This is democratic and magical. I argue that Amy's Children is a classic of Australian kitchen sink literature, or books published in the 1980s, or books by journalists born in New South Wales, or books about single mothers in Sydney, whatever suits me; I argue that Harry Potter is a classic of modern children's literature, or books set in boarding schools, or serial fiction, or international entertainment phenomenons, take your pick; I argue that Fumiko Enchi's Masks (thinking of this book because I took it off my shelf last night and it had been rubbed with jam) is a classic among Japanese books with words in their titles that can be translated into English as mask, and so is Yukio Mishima's Confessions of Mask. There may be other classics in that genre.
The libraries of the world are full of classics, anything is a classic, we have enriched ourselves, here is one way in which the changing conditions of our understanding have encouraged the production of certain things and discouraged the production of others, namely, books that could never be called classics of anything, lost books, lost by the lack of imagination in their owners, who can't think of a reason why this book, whatever it is, could be called a classic of something, when, I swear, there is a category small enough to fit anything, a category small as a blue hair ribbon -- look at St Patrick's Day -- a day represented by the colour green -- which allows it to amass any concrete object in the world. No romantic extrapolation is denied. I can walk the streets in a jade cape and people will understand. I can wear a bowler hat with a shamrock in the band. The shamrock can be covered with glitter. It can be six feet tall. The hat can have a drawbridge. I can wear a frog costume and on the stomach of the frog I have sewn the outline of a marijuana plant. Lovely comprehension sweeps through the crowd because it is the seventeenth of March. A category is a thing that can amass. A book is a category: it can amass. Amy's ability to amass is limited; she doesn't have a lot of money and she doesn't show an interest in things that can be amassed without money; she is not like the old woman I noticed in the dumpster behind the block of flats this afternoon holding one arm over her head with the wrist cocked and the hand held flat like the head of a shower. I don't know what she was collecting but it was free. Spring is coming. The largest category on earth is light although blind cave fishes stay evasive; alternatively dark.