Sunday, June 17, 2012

that arch suspended between two rocks

Connections! says Carlyle -- you act without knowing where your act will travel or what it will do after it's out of you. It's true that I wouldn't have read his Diamond Necklace if Ann Radcliffe hadn't borrowed the name La Motte, perhaps, or not. "[T]he name which La Motte [...] is given is one which had become notorious in the seventeen-eighties as a result of the trial, in France, resulting from "the affair of the queen's necklace" (a scandal which did some harm to the standing of the French monarchy) in which one of the accused was Jeanne de Luz, de Saint-Remy, or de Valois, comtesse de la Motte," explained Chloe Chard in the endnotes to Romance of the Forest. "This name might also have been suggested , however, by that of the 'Monsieur De La Motte' (the French poet and critic Antoine Houdart de la Motte, 1672 - 1731) whose fables are cited as the source of several poems in Dodsley (an anthology which contains a number of the works quoted in The Romance of the Forest)."

Fictional gambler, La Motte suggested both of these men to Chard, her brain saying, aha, and two antennae quivering off the gambler in two directions. (Is there money in this? he asks, cunning, cunning, cunning. Then what's the point?) Ann Radcliffe took out a sheet of paper and dipped her quill, gestating (not in herself but in time and history) future endnotes, which, now that she was writing, would be published in 1986 by Oxford University Press (herself not realising), nor did she foresee the life of Chard, "a lecturer in English literature at the university of of Osijek, in Yugoslavia" -- a country that didn't exist when Radcliffe was alive and doesn't exist now either -- nor would she have pictured the clean bloc biography that begins, "Ann Radcliffe (née Ward) was born in London in 1764. Her father was in trade ..." which is printed on the first page under a cardboard cover whose invention she would not have predicted, any more than Claudius Aelianus in the second century A.D. could have known that his description of a stingray would remind me of Steve Irwin every time I look at it.

The barb of the Sting-ray nothing can withstand. It wounds and kills instantly, and even those fishermen who have great knowledge of the sea dread its weapon. For no man can heal the wound, nor will the creature that inflicted it; that was a gift vouchsafed, most probably, to the ashen spear from mount Pelion alone.

(translated by A.F. Scholfield: On the Characteristics of Animals)

But my Steve Irwin is nothing but reports of Steve Irwin, since I never watched the show, only heard about it from others.

My thoughts run on in chains, and even the word "chains" would not have made it into this sentence if I hadn't found a copy of Paul Muldoon's New Selected Poems 1968 - 1994 at a secondhand bookshop that was going out of business on Tropicana Avenue, far down by Goodwill and a petrol station. If you open this book casually, without aiming for a specific area, then it will flip open automatically at page one hundred and twenty-five where you can read his 1987 poem Something Else, which ends with --

hanged himself from a lamp-post
with a length of chain, which made me think

of something else, then something else again.

Twelve lines earlier the poem starts with a lobster --

When your lobster was was lifted out of the tank
to be weighed
I thought of woad

-- and runs through other scenes before it reaches the lamp-post. The poet must have known that the human mind can connect these things, will do so willingly, and wants to. (Carlyle in On History, prefers webs to chains and now that I've mentioned it I think I do too.) In Radcliffe's last book, The Italian, the hero manages to accuse a monk of villainy by mentioning the word "friar" near the word "banditti" during a conversation about scenery.

"That arch," resumed Vivaldi, his eye still fixed on Schedoni, "that arch suspended between two rocks, the one overtopped by the towers of the fortress, the other shadowed with pine and broad oak, has a fine effect. But a picture of it would want human figures. Now either the grotesque shapes of banditti lurking within the ruin, as if ready to start out upon the traveller, or a friar rolled up in his black garments, just stealing forth from under the shade of the arch, and looking like some supernatural messenger of evil, would finish the piece."

Schedoni, sneering, hostile, bitter, detects the accusation instantly, and reacts with, "I cannot but admire the facility with which you have classed the monks together with banditti," but I am distracted by the hero's name, which I never can read without believing, for a second, each time, that he composed the Four Seasons. Because I am a human being who recently read Hazlitt's Table Talk I perceived a connection between his essay on actors and these sentences from Carlyle's book about the necklace: "As in looking at a finished Drama, it were nowise meet that the spectator first of all got behind the scenes, and saw the burnt-corks, brayed-resin, thunder-barrels, and withered hunger-bitten men and women, of which such heroic work was made: so herewith the reader. A peep into the side-scenes shall be granted him, from time to time. But, on the whole, repress, O reader, that too insatiable scientific curiosity of thine; let thy esthetic feeling first have play." But their points of view are too different, only editing makes them seem similar, you can only maintain the connection if you leave it pristine, deciding, pause here, do not feed your brain any material that might push it on to more advanced conclusions and take you away from the position you already hold: stand in that position and stay with that link, which reminds me of the unicyclist who told me that a unicycle will not coast when you stop pedalling.

The brain goes on, I pick up my copy of Balzac's History of the Thirteen whereat pages zero to seventy drop out in a fall of brown dry glue, an action that could be used, if I were writing a story, to suggest the disintegration of an attachment, perhaps a marriage between my characters, whoever they are, in other words this emblematic disintegration would not exist separately, it would be embedded in the chain or web of remarks that made up my book, not free, but hauled up and nailed into place, in my last paragraph maybe; maybe I could borrow it for a portentous ending.

No comments:

Post a Comment