Thursday, August 23, 2012
A line is a dot that has gone for a walk, said Paul Klee, allegedly, somewhere or somewhere else, and as a matter of fact I can't discover where. Everybody quotes it, nobody tells me the source, or I can't find the source; the source is somewhere and I do not have it, or it was somewhere once, the words appeared, there they were, and now exist and were disseminated outward from that long-ago point of composition, if outward is the word.
Here is this statement of an idea and take it, you, said one person, and all right, said the other, and on it went, and was streamlined, as things are streamlined, Sherlock Holmes for example, who never said a certain famous phrase and of course actually never said anything, being fictional and what's more, silent, and as silent as the gramophone in Magritte's painting of the murderer who is listening to a gramophone while three men stare at his back, the body lies on a stiff chaise-lounge, he may be detained soon by two other men nearby but of course not: he will listen to the music forever, which does not exist, and he did not commit the murder either, nor did Mr Dawes in For the Term of His Natural Life, neither in the story nor out of it, and whatsername, Sylvia, did not draw the words Good Mr Dawes in the sand of the beach, "with the sceptre of the Queen," where they were shipwrecked, poor Mr Dawes who was scourged but never really scourged, chained but never really chained, and so you can erase anything that happened in a book by pointing out that it never did and yet a memory in the reader nonetheless and not erased.
But that would be one way to write a blog post, starting with a dot, a book, and taking it for a walk, wondering if one day there might be a moment of cohesion and insight or whatever word you want to use (although concentrated thought might do the job better, and strictness, I concur, rather than this hoping), so that I am thinking of de Quincey with his English Mail Coach rather than the English teachers at school who told us, when we were writing essays, to restate your initial point in the final paragraph, and fasten it down with the information you've introduced in the middle; if you asked a question in paragraph one then have you answered it? If no then rewrite.
De Quincy here I reckon, or Victor Hugo and his William Shakespeare, which is not about Shakespeare (and which I discovered through Wuthering Expectations), or say even Geoffrey Hill, who I'm told described his essays as "vortices" during an interview that was published in the Times Literary Supplement. There are those writers who set their essays out in short parts and change with each part, and fall pregnant between each part with the next part. Helen Garner wrote about the ice floes that way once, I think, but my copy of her book is on the other hemisphere of the earth inside a box and I hope not eaten by the silverfish who follow the natural imperative toward nourishment and thereby propagation of the species, that the society of silverfish be proved eternal, a plan that is probably not conscious within them.
Now I'm going to finish this post with two paragraphs that were both originally part of the first post on Browning and Eliot. They stayed for a while, then they were estranged from the beginning of the post by a sentence that expanded into longer passages until finally they were not related to the start of the post in any powerfully connective way at all.
"[Meeting at Night is] an encounter of two characters who do not criticise one another or themselves; in Eliot the physical appearance is critiqued by the mind, the two hearts are in disparate bosoms, there is no spiritual communion: an ideal is not met, the person can't prove itself in any significant way through its appearance, or else you could say that its appearance disconcerts it or pollutes it: my personality is narrow and so are my legs, thinks Alfred J. Prufrock, and he imagines the women looking at his head and saying, "How his hair is growing thin." But whether the people in Browning's poem are bald or thin or ugly we don't know, he doesn't mind, he doesn't think about it. His man is crossing the fields on legs that are long or short or fat or thin; he has no legs, he is movement. One narrator is concentrated, one is diffused, one moves urgently, the other says, "There will be time, there will be time," and hesitates, he thinks of everything else, he thinks of the ocean, he thinks of Shakespeare. One narrator knows where he aims and drives toward that aim; the other has a rough idea of what his aim might be if he could find it but doesn't know if he is about to look in the right or wrong place or what the outcome might be: the power of certainty to make me move, says Browning, the power of uncertainty to hold me still, says Eliot.
But "each to each" in both cases. Words have friends everywhere, duplicates everywhere, doppelgängers back and forth through time or is it the same word, travelling to each point of time in an instant; what is a word? the word is the thing in the ink or something else, the ink and not the ink, the stock phrase is here, is there, it is a thing, it is not a thing, it is mine, it is not mine, you can take it but you can't steal it; I still have it but I don't own it, it's been stolen so often that it hasn't changed. It is the same but it isn't the same; it's different but identical, and the question then, since words evidently have a changeable condition and a static one, does this make them comparable do ourselves: do words have souls, or could they be a model of the body and the soul, or do they have souls and we don't, as we can see the static and eternal conditions of a word operating in front of us, whereas in the case of humans we have evidence of only one state, the changeable, and the immortal has to be taken on trust. The existence of souls in words can be reasonably observed and explained, which doesn't mean that they have them."