Sunday, September 30, 2012

squirming facts

Clues, clues, Charlotte Brontë, knowing the mental tendencies of her mortal audience, which needs to recognise things quickly thanks to a short lifespan; if immortal they could contemplate "vaster than empires and more slow," etc, and no wonder vampires get dolorous when they're switched so quickly from one state to the other -- the author plants clues, the banshee is a clue, the volcano is a clue, put it together with the wind, this is all a clue to the wind, which is a clue to the scene after the wind, and another clue to add to my ideas about Lucy Snowe's character generally, and it affects my ideas about the death, the dead woman Miss Marchmont looking "all calm and undisturbed" but this calm is a contrast to volcanoes.

Any reader, coming across the wind paragraph, probably begins to anticipate a quick concrete doom in the book, not believing that the author will let these volcanoes tootle away to nothing, the grammar of the situation demanding a response, as one part of language follows another in a sentence, as a The is followed eventually by some noun, so the predicting wind is followed by an event for it to have predicted, which will seem associated with the wind by its proximity to the wind, as the number 1 is associated with the next number that comes after the plus sign -- say a 2 --

1 + 2 =

-- and not another number that floats around two lines below, say a 4 -- the 4 gets ignored, like this --

1 + 2 = 3

-- when it could have been loved, like this --

1 + 2 = 5

I (reading) don't think this wind is having an intimate effect on an event occurring on page three hundred if it only blows on page forty-five (unless the author reminds me deliberately once again of that wind, which Charlotte Brontë does, actually, much later, in association with another death, but that's a different story) -- these things, when they're close, they cuddle -- and if Miss Marchmont had waited for two hundred pages before dying then would I associate her with the wind, even if that was what the author had in mind but never told me, ah, behold, says Brontë in my hypothetical world, behold, she says, this is a significant wind, and then the hypothetical book wambles off on another topic and everybody has a picnic, then they go on an adventure with a panther, and then they have a bike ride, then another picnic, this time with chocolate ice cream, and then the woman decides to pack it up and die all calm and undisturbed and Lucy Snowe must go to notBelgium with the Catholics.

One of Languagehat's readers looks over that Herbert Fiegel post and makes an association between Fiegl's point and two poems by Wallace Stevens, the quote was one shoe falling, now there's room for another shoe and Wallace Stevens is that shoe, one clue leading to another, the second clue provided and the circuit begun; room now for someone else to suggest a third poem, or a biography of Wallace Stevens, or a critique of the poem -- ourselves on the ground floor here -- primed for further thumps --

The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind,
If one may say so. And yet relation appears,
A small relation expanding like the shade
Of a cloud on sand, a shape on the side of a hill.

(Connoisseur of Chaos, Wallace Stevens, 1942)

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