Sunday, November 11, 2012

here thinks a pink slip

I'm going back to the Matthews poem. Separation in this poem is not the state where you natively begin your life but a state into which you move by acquiring shame. Shame has been added to you and a new creature has evolved. The people in the bar have picked up a particular kind of shame and now their species of creature can be classified; it has particular attributes, which the poet describes like this: "None here thinks a pink slip | ("You're fired," with boilerplate apologies) | is underwear. None here says "lingerie" | or "as it were."" These are his characters, he reads their minds, he knows what they think about pink slips; he is possibly thinking of actual people he has met and as he judges their behaviour and speech ("We speak Demotic") he decides that if he said the words "pink slip" they would not think of underwear, he takes this belief, he makes this his hint, and why not a different hint, why "pink slip" and not -- unanswerable question, he's dead, and the whole brain gone.

His men are anonymous, they could be anyone, and anyone who has those experiences can have this shame, the narrator of the poem has shame, and it seems to be assumed that the reader will understand this shame situation as well. But separation in Freya Stark and Ernestine Hill is not attached to shame; it is a product of the material universe and they present it as a person's indigenous state, or at least the state that other people occupy when these two travel writers meet them, and those strangers exist there without explanations.

Hill's man in the gulley with the mad chicken does not have a history, or a reason for his chicken, he is a man with a chicken, the chicken is mad, and he is desperate, and there they are, these phenomena, without the explanation that would have accompanied them in the work of the other travel writer Peter Matthiessen; they do not come trailing clouds of glowing reason from a birth that the author has imagined -- their author does not soothe them -- she leaves them squatting on the page -- she exposes them -- the wind beats their peaks --

The world in Stark and Hill is primarily a material world, more sensuous in Stark's case, more sensationalist in Hill's, but material in both. This leads me, along a pathway that is open to myself though no one else, to the subject of Dorothy Dunnett, who was recommended to me months ago by someone who had been reading her at bedtime and couldn't get to sleep. Whenever anyone recommends anything I will say yes, unless I know of the author already, and then I tell the good kind person who is making the recommendation that I do not want to try the collected works of Lee Child.

Try James Patterson, said someone else, years ago, and when I opened the book I saw an entire paragraph taken up with the one word, "BANG." This kind of prose that was once upon a time experimental has caught on, I thought. The writer does not expect the reader to be confused by a sentenceless BANG. The last line in the paragraph before the BANG was something like, "He pulled a gun," or, "He fired his gun." What brains we have, I thought: we are able to see these three letters, gee yew en, and this BANG and we imagine that a man's finger has been resting next to a trigger, now has utilised his musculature in the drawing of that fingertip closer to his body, now a bullet has leapt explosively out of a hole (but we probably think all this in summary, we have a vague impression of an action which, if broken down, would look like this, but anticipated wholly has to be described with a word that is not like any of those individual actions or even hints at them; in fact it could describe a million other situations -- that word is threat -- or excitement --) and soon the two co-authors of this book might stop writing about the main character because he will have been described with the word "dead" though that is almost guaranteed not to happen for the rules of this genre forbid the realisation of that possibility, a situation that affects poetry too, or did in the 1790s because Wordsworth mentions it in the Preface to his Lyrical Ballads (1798), "It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association; that he not only thus apprises the Reader that certain classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others will be carefully excluded," and so, applying this same logic to the genre of serial detective action thrillers, I will predict that the hero of that James Patterson book was never described with the word "dead" and instead he was compelled to retaliate and destroy or disable the character whose existence led to the BANG.

From those two sentences I prophesy that piece of action. Anyone who has read Thomas Hardy's poems will be able to guess that I lifted the Wordsworth quote from the introduction he wrote for Late Lyrics and Earlier, which was published in 1923; following on from that you might decide that Henry Matthews one night in his local bar overheard a man saying, "Pink slip."

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