Thursday, August 30, 2012

gestures and movements of the human body are laughable

Thomas de Quincey swerves and so does Robert Walser. Walser was an author who could write a sentence that was like a game of Exquisite Corpse, a series of pieces fitted together, as I was reminded ages ago by a post at Wuthering Expectations, a quote there -- "Outside a car awaited me, which then whisked me away, and so off I drove, and no doubt am still doing so to this day" -- a line from the end of The Dinner Party a piece from a book of Walser pieces, Masquerade and Other Stories, translated by Susan Bernofsky -- with the fold in this Exquisite Corpse coming between drove and and, both the first segment and the second segment making sense in themselves, but together disconcerting.

Nonsense writing, this is, I think, the sensibility of Nonsense writing, the awareness that sentences are made up of parts, and that the parts can be played with -- and if sentences then maybe also the world? -- the spectre of that imaginary dictatorship is tantalising; the Nonsense writer is a dictator in that dragon world; the dictatorship is called Nonsense and funny but every dictatorship looks ridiculous from the outside -- North Korea's Kims like fat dumb bears in playtime suits -- which he, Walser, achieved with a pencil not a pen, I read, in an essay by J.M. Coetzee in the New York Review of Books.

The pencil and the self-invented stenographic script allowed the purposeful, uninterrupted, yet dreamy hand movement that had become indispensable to his creative mood.

Suggest that this putting-together of parts is comic in accordance with Henri Bergson's description of comedy movement: "The attitudes, gestures and movements of the human body are laughable in exact proportion as that body reminds us of a mere machine." (Laughter: an essay on the meaning of the word comic, published 1900 in French, as Le Rire. Essai sur la signification du comique.)

The last part of Walser's sentence sits against the first part as it would if it had been imported from a foreign place that was hostile or indifferent to the first part; pieces of a machine don't care about one another either, but the mechanic bolts them together so that the machine works; Walser has bolted two parts together to make the machine of the sentence work; it's a strange sentence but it's a sentence; you can paint your cog with daisies but the clock still works; develop this if you like into a philosophy of the world, indifferent parts fitting together, the indifference reflected everywhere, Nonsense reflecting that reflection, the hostility in Alice, the solitary characters in Peake, and the people in Lear's limericks who're brutal to one another.

There was a Young Person of Smyrna,
Whose Grandmother threatened to burn her;
But she seized on the cat,
And said, "Granny, burn that!
You incongruous Old Woman of Smyrna!"

Proust's narrator wants to retaliate against Charlus but cannot do so on the same plane as Charlus; he does not live on that plane, he is not an aristocrat, he is in the other man's house, he cannot read the other man's behaviour, what does he do? He grabs the Baron's hat, he stamps it to pieces, and this strange and unexpected activity is quickly absorbed into the realistic scene, Charlus adjusting -- Proust alert to Nonsense -- Nonsense is not unrealistic --

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