Sunday, November 25, 2012

so much refin'd

The agony of thinking that you would like to be one with everyone and the difficulty when you discover you can't become that: this was a quality of David Foster Wallace said one commentator I read a few weeks or months ago, and this attitude was juvenile in him, the commentator added, if I remember rightly, but I never bookmarked the article and articles about David Foster Wallace proliferate like stars or freckles. If you have moved into a state of separation through the medium of shame like the people in the William Matthews poem then unification is possible and even desirable since you could reach it by eradicating that shame. Shame is in the action of hiding or wanting to hide; without that hiding impulse there is no shame and by describing the motivation he classified the shame; it is the shame of certain people who understand the words "pink slip" in one way and not another way; in that other way they would not understand them without further explanation, and so the work of comprehension can take different paths even when it starts from the same place, in this case, "pink slip," two words, but what small items are misunderstandings made of, as in comedies of manners and Victorian tragedy novels, which are in this sense identical.

... None here thinks a pink slip
("You're fired," with boilerplate apologies)
is underwear.

So the two phenomena are connected and intimately indicate one another, or have done so since 1998 at least, when his posthumous book was published and the poem inside.

Love can eliminate the alienated separations between people, hints John Donne, "we shall | Be one, and one another's all" (Love's Infiniteness),

But we by a love so much refin'd,
   That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one ...

(A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning)

So the poems chat, Matthews' explains a problem, shame, separation, and Donne's work proposes a solution, unity, love, romantic love, suggesting that if the men in Matthews' bar could all manage to fall in romantic love with one another then their situation would be cured, they might lose their habit of speaking Demotic, the words "pink slip" would open for them like a blossom: one man might see himself sliding on strawberry gelati, another man might salute his wife's unmentionables.

But that's too simple, argues Matthews. Listen to you, Mr Donne, there's a problem you say, we apply a solution, romantic love, boom, the problem is fixed, no, listen, it wouldn't work, not with the people in my After All poems, whose lives are muted and complicated, something like Raymond Carver people: life or the situation has gone too far, and who knows how to get back -- not me or them. Your way is the Aelian way of dealing with things, and he, the Ancient Roman, would say that there is a natural method that could be used, he would make me this proposal as if we're all a stork in De Natura Animalium having troubles with a bat. Pick this leaf at midnight, he would say: find the right herb at the bottom of a lake, administer it to the source of your problem, and the bat will disappear. Romantic love is not a herb, announces Donne, and there is more to it than that. Not material but spirit. Telepathy too I suppose, says Matthews, like that couple in Voss, having communication over distances because they're in love, no, I still don't swallow it. I haven't read Voss, says Donne, but I know that the narrator in The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson likes to communicate telepathically with his beloved across a landscape full of monsters. Really, says Matthews, but that's the second time in two weeks this blog has connected Hodgson with Patrick White, seeing as Hodgson was an inspiration to Lovecraft and there was that post about Riders in the Chariot and the Lovecraft goat, which I admit I only got halfway through. I think they must be almost identical then, says Donne, this White person and this Hodgson. I look forward to the monsters in Voss.

Writing "herb" I realise that Foster Wallace, being American, might have pronounced that word urb, like Uriah Heep, and I think of the numbers of people on this continent turning Cockney when they meet those four letters.

So that's Charles Dickens who's been brought in, and Aelian, who else, David Foster Wallace, the poet William Matthews, and John Donne. I could save myself the trouble of thinking out another post just by writing, now, "What other names? Who isn't here yet? I'll tackle that in a few days," and then spend my time writing five hundred names: there's my next post: done. Robert Burton sticks his head in. All you need to do is quote something, he says. Something rude in Latin.

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