Thursday, June 14, 2012

the Thing Done will come to use

Ann Radcliffe's La Motte, just as an aside, may or may not owe his name to a French con artist of the 1780s, Jeanne de la Motte, who tried to heist a diamond necklace and became famous because the queen was involved; Marie Antoinette, innocent in fact, but the French public didn't completely believe it, and angry feeling was building toward the Revolution. Jeanne de la Motte had "a character, which the present Writer, a determined student of human nature, declares to be undecipherable," wrote Thomas Carlyle in 1837 for his short book about the heist, The Diamond Necklace (published by himself and his wife in limited edition); he was not helped by her three volumes of memoir.

"As to Lamotte the husband, he, for shelter against much, decisively dives down to the 'subterranean shades of Rascaldom'; gambles, swindles; can hope to live, miscellaneously, if not by the Grace of God, yet by the Oversight of the Devil, for a time," he writes, which are also the words you would use to describe the progress of La Motte in Radcliffe's book (gambles, swindles, tries to thrive), but every human being was a melodrama to Carlyle at this point in his life (so anybody can see by reading his essay, On History, published in 1830), with a mysterious story and plot, each person hurtling through the universe on this earthly cannonball, sending out star-beams of action (who knows where the light ends up), each person a concentrated history and fractal image of the larger history: "Is not every memory written quite full with Annals, wherein joy and mourning, conquest and loss manifoldly alternate; and, with or without philosophy, the whole fortunes of one little inward Kingdom, and all its politics, foreign and domestic, stand ineffaceably recorded?" -- he asks in the essay, which came out in Fraser's Magazine.

History should be treated poetically, he said, philosophically, musically, because it was humanity's "chief inheritance," each historical narrative evidence of our "spiritual nature" -- he explained the high dramatic style of Necklace to his brother in a letter --

My attempt was to make reality ideal; there is considerable significance in that notion of mine, and I have not yet seen the limit of it, nor shall till I have tried to go as far as it will carry me. The story of the Diamond Necklace is all told in that paper with the strictest fidelity, yet in a kind of musical way.

His song is called Force. "Work," he tells the audience in Necklace, "lies not isolated, stranded; a whole busy World, a whole native-element of mysterious never-resting Force, environs it; will catch it up; will carry it forward, or else backward: always, infallibly, either as living growth, or at worst as well-rotted manure, the Thing Done will come to use. Often, accordingly, for a man that had finished any little work, this were the most interesting question In such a boundless whirl of a world, what hook will it be, and what hooks, that shall catch up this little work of mine; and whirl it also, through such a dance ?"

Carlyle, who was a lover of Great Man-ism, makes his Lamotte-husband dive "decisively" and court the Devil, possessing not just ordinary badness, but badness almost worthy of Devil-attention: let Jeanne's husband have the bliss of extremity if he couldn't have any other kind. The husband is a listless figure in the Diamond Necklace saga, drifting out of sight and leaving the notoriety to his wife, who made her way eventually to Britain and published the three volumes.

Every person was a participant in a strong force, so Carlyle suggested; their actions entered that force when they were acted, the force flew through the world and the Great Man is a kind of pure focus. Great Mannery was a current of thought that ran through Europe during the 1800s: great tug of war between democracy and great despotism, the mass of workerdom here, Napoleon there, and various artists supporting either side, Carlyle arguing for a kind of chaos with multiple intense points, motionful not static, he died, time went on, others argued, then the Great Man hove up and it was Hitler.

But even an encounter with a diabolical Great Man couldn't knock the idea out of the human head immediately. E.R. Eddison was publishing books about fascistic Great Men while World War II was running (I know: I've made that point on this blog before), and perhaps did not see what he was writing about; like Lucien in Balzac he couldn't estimate the prospect that was standing in front of his eyes: all normal and human, when you put it like that and try to frame him as Lucien, and what unconscious spite I saw the other day online -- one person unemployed, and another saying, You should have done what I did when I was seventeen, I foresaw everything accurately and studied subject X -- but if everybody had studied subject X then you wouldn't be in the position you are now, a desirable commodity. There's nothing more infallible than luck.

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