Sunday, December 9, 2012
she sat in it
Not all of the poets who described their beloveds's hair with the phrase "gold wire" would have thought of a sea urchin, though some readers might have done so, keeping it to themselves as readers helplessly do while they read, muted, gagged, stuffed, digestive process taking place, quiet as they submit to the experiment, the book a theory and themselves the vital element, the magnesium of one swells up in the acid of the other and dissolves inward, the experiment can take place now, and the reader afterwards is the result, result proven though not explained, perhaps never explained, but present, walking around, picking its teeth, eating lunch, and watching the Melbourne Cup, which was won this year by deep brown Green Moon pursuing equations on her four mud-coloured socks, the Cup being a theory worked out by horses.
Afterwards the reader might write their thoughts down and enter the same place as the book, which is the landscape of prose; they are armed with weapons that might not be as strong as the book itself, or might be stronger: intelligence one weapon, held confusedly, ability to write hanging like a meathook in the other hand, hook blunt, meat absent. I have not read the pulp novel that Virginia Woolf reviewed for the Times in 1919, or it might have been the Telegraph, but I'm guessing that her review was possibly a more rememberable piece of writing than the book since she goes against the rules of form and the novelist apparently did not, she has a sense of humour and the novelist did not, she doesn't waste her words and the author sounds as if he wasted all of them: she goes against a reviewer's-law (which might not have been a law back then but was surely understood to some extent: "Don't do this," people must have said) and spends the entire review describing the plot of the book from start to finish with almost no other commentary.
Her opinion is all held in and radiated by, the selection of the words she uses to describe that plot, so serious as she explains the lunatic mystery of the evil heir searching for his treasure that she is laughing, she is disdainful but not disdainful because that sounds too straight -- smiling, she is cruel at the small scale of this novel's emotions and its plotting, the thing is so small that it's funny, the idea of anyone spending their time reading it, the largeness of a human life, the minuteness of this book (I am putting words in her mouth; she never says any of this, she only lets you imagine that she was calling to Leonard across the room, and asking, "Listen to this," before reading him an excerpt, then both of them rolling around): the scale is off, the fact of reading is funny, in a few sentences she has made herself a giant, the book is a fly, then she rips off its wings; she uses the same voice when she kills The Angel in the House, reporting, "if there was a draught she sat in it."
And this notion of scale you can watch in her other prose (it occurs to me I had to put words in her mouth so that I could carry on to the thought I'm having now): the spectacle of London and the ideas inside Mrs Dalloway's head, these things that seem larger or smaller depending on your viewpoint, the air coloured with infusion of lighthouse and then the stick itself.
Your income scaled to one size will let you write, scaled to another size it will trip you over -- she thinks about class differences when she gives a speech to working women, she notes the spaces between her imaginary Shakespeare and his sister, the scale of William, his influence as a man, and the scale of the sister, the morsel of her strength when Woolf compares it with his, and the sister's helplessness when she tries to increase her strength since the forces opposing her are actually a network that has formed between the head-interiors of other people, where she cannot go, or it is not in their heads but in some region of electricity of which their skulls appear, from the outside, to form the boundary. How soft is a mind, how hard is a head? M. says that he saw a man last week using a concrete kerb for a pillow. If M. had been wearing night vision goggles then that head would have been a burning fire on the concrete and the body in the gutter of a driveway, burning too with heat and shooting the warm blood through its chutes at thirty-something degrees Centigrade though without the goggles it looked cold and still, marked with little textures that might interest the observer but the concrete was speckled with textures that were fascinating too, and no difference between them in that respect. If we wore night vision goggles we would be surrounded by walking stars. And all the books would be dead but still rectangular.