Thursday, November 29, 2012

the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative

Five hundred names, says Aelian. (Considering the end of my last post, he decides to speak up.) Well done. That's an easy solution. That's perfect. That's fast. You'll be done in minutes. Mechanical simplicity, says PJ Ray: hipsters love it because it gives them a feeling of autonomy and control, and they hope that they are released from the humiliation of dependence that is contingent upon their existence, which supplies them with iPhones, computerised cars, and other gadgets that are too difficult to fix without a technician. "In short, the fetishization of low-tech is about the illusion of agency; it provides affirmation for the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative to be an individual, to be unique."

George Scialabba, paraphrasing Christopher Lasch's ideas about modern industrialisation in his .pdf chapbook, Divided Mind, pictured this "imperative" as a psychological development, Freudian rather than post-Modern, and a paraphrase like to have a well-composed adult mind would take the place, in his argument of to be an individual, to be unique. He writes:

And in promising an endless supply of technological marvels, it evokes grandiose fantasies of absolute self-sufficiency and unlimited mastery of the environment, even while the quasi-magical force that conjures up those marvels – i.e., science – becomes ever more remote from the comprehension or control of ordinary citizens. This is a recipe for regression to psychic infancy: fantasies of omnipotence alternating with terrified helplessness.

An irony, says Ray, is that the companies selling gadgets will use the ideas of autonomy and psychic freedom to sell the gadgets; these ideas are a marketing tool and how do you escape from the iPhone that is like a ritual in Gormenghast, administered only by the authorities? "We are built," he writes, "to desire what society needs from us and to demand the same from others. Delueze observes with transparent contempt that “young people strangely boast of being ‘motivated;’” they require no institutional coercion," they want, and are tempted, and are not like the kings or the narrator in The Grasshopper, by Richard Lovelace (1618–1657).

Thus richer than untempted kings are we,
   That, asking nothing, nothing need:
Though lords of all what seas embrace, yet he
   That wants himself is poor indeed.

Which is desire not unfulfilled but short-circuited, or routed back to the one object, oneself, though many of the other poems of that time and place (if the anthologies I've been reading are good guides, and the collected Donne, etc) are about longing for a thing not oneself, instead another's self, the beloved, a complicated machine but one that may be modified without technicians, let me try to pry you open with this hammer darling, oh let us come together --

Love me less or love me more,
And play not with my liberty,
Either take all or restore,
Bind me at least or set me free ...

(from Song, by Sidney Godolphin (1610? – 1643) )

-- switch me on or off, he begs, but don't leave me in the middle, a poor dickering bulb, don't leave me with my friends, the other poets, whose "fantasies of omnipotence alternating with terrified helplessness" recur throughout these poems you could say, or am I stretching it? The beloved's gaze or promise will annihilate or restore, it is worth more than diamonds or more than the sky, or it is heaven and the hair is gold, or some similar thing, so let that loved one be contrasted with some object, usually a flower or a star, the paps are snow, the cheeks cherry, nature feels shy when she walks, "The sun would steal a kiss: | The wind upon her lips | Likewise most sweetly blew" (George Wither (1588 - 1667), A Love Sonnet) and she is sometimes resistant to the poet's appeals, this resistance interpreted as cruelty ("I see you wear that pitying smile | Which you have still vouchsaf'd my smart," from the Godolphin again), though in Phillis Knotting by Sir Charles Sedley she is preoccupied, or else she is wishing the speaker would go away, or feels shy for some other reason. Enclosed in her own unpenetrated quiet she is closer to the characters in Peake's book, who are "themselves" as the author often reminds us: themselves with a bottomless reserve of self. "Titus is not a symbol. Titus is himself."

You could take the whole Titus trilogy as a piece of support for the idea that being yourself does not make you happy, seeing that so few people who live in Gormenghast castle are happy, if in fact any of them are, possibly none whatsoever except the Doctor, yet all drenched in Themselves. This notion is so prominent in my mind that when I was listening the other day to an album by the Californian band Los Cenzontles and the singer sang this line, "I want to be free to be me," I thought, No you don't, look what happened to Fuchsia. And could not stop feeling that this was an extremely legitimate criticism of the entire song.

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.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

extra bloodshed was useless

So the action in Dorothy Dunnett's world is not the action of her language, the imagined world is described but it is not present in the souls of the words, it is not sympathised with by its materials, the atom-word fights against its role, this fight was clawing at me, and my princess was offended by her pea.

Dunnett must have read over her books before she sent them to the publisher and the feelings that came between myself and her book must have never have struck her, instead she saw the substance of her language being the substance of her plot's action, and the same with the person who told me to read her work; they did not see a split between the language and the action, they were rapt and stayed up past their bedtime with the Lymond Chronicles. The queen gave her an OBE; there was an International Dorothy Dunnett Day in 2011 with another Day planned for this year, and people travel to the places whose names she has used in her books though probably not Timbuktu at the moment due to the fighting and the destruction of monuments.

So I feel like a person who swears they have seen a ghost when everyone else says, "There is no ghost," and I am Ruskin in The Seven Lamps of Architecture, frantic over ribands.

Seeing the differences between myself and her I want to fill this gap out with a piece of reasoning to settle myself down, and I would like to decide that she was using her language unconsciously and not consciously, and that those well-mannered words she put directly into Macbeth's thoughts, one would hope ("He was sensible enough, one would hope, to realise that extra bloodshed was useless") were noises that came to her without shyness or premeditation; it must have seemed normal to her that a person should say that phrase, any person of any class or race, and this middle class formality in the mouth of a royal thug would never have seemed strange, never mind if she had read her draft a hundred times, though even when I remember that it is a modern translation of the imagined speech of an eleventh-century Briton (with the emphasis on translation) it still seems strange to me, this niceness, under the circumstances, which are bloody, and in the mouth of a man brought up among ancient Orkney sheep and hideous rocks.

She is everywhere in the book but she seems asleep, she seems to be using phrases because they are familiar. Patrick White -- going back to Riders in the Chariot -- seems alert in everything, and arch, alive, frustrated; not only does he have an opinion everywhere but he is aware of that opinion, and pushes it hard, often with disgust; every time he writes "brick houses" he is disgusted, and bristles with disgust. He is filled with force-points. The black goat is a force-point, he charges it with Mrs Jolley's foot, with the shock of that attack, the sudden cruelty, which is an emphasis, a Decadent technique, this violence, this sadism, and then maintains the shock with tension in the conversation that comes afterwards, about the goat, the aggression in the sentences, aggression generated between the characters but not released -- the goat is a multiple symbol but tension holds it tight, it does not dissipate. White's style is the fist-style. He likes diffusion but not dissipation. He places his opinion, you are never allowed to forget what he thinks of the brick houses, and his eyes exist throughout the book, his opinion looking out at you and pressing itself home in the arch placement of words; he writes a panopticon, you are always under surveillance, and the books crush in on you. "White ... does more than get under your skin; in his best work, he flays the reader bare," wrote Nicholas Shakespeare in the Telegraph on the nineteenth of October. I'm going to throw this in: he wants to make you hysterical.

Meanwhile the countryside in a book by Freya Stark or Ernestine Hill is filled with surprise performances, vaudeville acts, announcements, somersaults, nothing is completely expected, and at any moment another person might come on and entertain you with some strange behaviour. The right response (in the language of the books) is not hatred or disgust but it should include some kind of applause, in other words a description, which is evidence of the writer's attentiveness to this thing that is even more decisively not herself as she describes it. Ernestine Hill can see the man staring at a chicken and figure out his mental state from a distance, therefore she is not that man, and when she records him speaking to her then she is doubly not him. A sign of unity in these books would be silence.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

sensible enough, one would hope

Some of those opinion-words (the ones like "perfect," "good sense," etc) have been palmed off on Dunnett's characters but the language is the same once and again the same in everyone's mouth -- it is herself, badly disguised -- or she decides to involve the reader in these opinions, doing this (for example) after a tense scene that takes place between two characters during a festival, writing, "after that, the day was more the sort of festival it ought to be," without letting you know who has defined "the sort of festival it ought to be." It must be you and her together, maybe, working all this out with the collusion of a vague society of the book's anonymous inhabitants who are engaged in the festival: but it is not them, it is her, she assumes that anyone who reads the word "festival" will experience notions of frolicking happiness, the opposite of that angry just-read dialogue, and feel, at a level of thought formulated so automatically it is virtually subconscious, that this is how the day "ought to be."

(But, but, isn't that interesting, an author assuming her readers into herself and inhabiting them like a subtle Walt Whitman, see how intriguing it is, well, I say, well, clawing at my head, I don't want myself coerced into this nudge, nudge, nudge of a condemning mood against the characters, who are unnatural people, she says, because they are perverting a human day into what-it-ought-not-to-be -- that judgment is not my judgment -- maybe I was bullied as a child --)

The action in the plot is violent and surprising, one man betrays his uncle, a merchant is sabotaged, the kingdoms of the ancient British Isles can't keep their boundaries stable, but the language neuters violence with complacent words like "satisfactory" -- "The meal, served in the large room of the Vatican Palace, was satisfactory" -- it has the same opinion as the Countess in Proust's unfinished Sainte-Beuve book, a woman who does not like people who "exaggerate" (she is criticising Balzac); these people make things seem larger than the scale her mind inhabits; a meal in King Hereafter will never be an ecstatic experience, only a satisfactory one. The author gives a character a present and eviscerates his delight.

His wife of course would be delighted, and so was he: no one in Alba had such a cup. It was perhaps churlish to feel that something of a less domestic nature, a psalter perhaps, would have been more flattering from one high bishop to another.

Wry, wry, and wry again when a man during an attack sighs at his enemy because the weather is cold, "I don't know why, in the midst of all the elaborate plotting, you didn't have the common sense to keep your cloak on." Reading, I realised that Dorothy Dunnett couldn't endure the same world that she was trying to invent, rough sty where a cooked meal makes the air stink "with the smells of hot beef and grease," and you have to slosh your horse through an icy stream if you want to get to the other side; suffering in this world is necessary, but in her language no one suffers, though they may do a thing that is not "convenient."

They battle, herself and her world, they wrestle, she wins, she has won before the first page opens (you have to imagine the war from its traces), she murders violence, and here is the point where I connect her to Freya Stark (two posts ago), saying that Stark's language wants to unite sensuously with the world it is describing, and grasp it, and note a green thing with the simple adjective "green," planting it in the sentence firmly so that it suggests absolute greenness with acceptance of that greenness by the author who is issuing this undisguised description (and William Carlos Williams, when he wanted to explain a sight that was "the most important, the most integral that it had ever been my pleasure to gaze upon" gave his nouns a single word-friend each, first "red" for the wheelbarrow, then "rain" for the water, then "white" for the chickens, implacable, solid, planted, loved, respected), while Dunnett's language flies away from the world it is pretending to describe, evading the green thing's greenness by escaping into these otherwordly measurements of the gods. The character Macbeth has a hard point to make about another man, brutal, horrible; he has to soften it with a little polite bit of exasperated language before he can form his thought in the Dunnett-world: "He was sensible enough, one would hope, to realise that extra bloodshed was useless."

He is not protesting against bloodshed, he is protesting against too much extra bloodshed, which is not convenient or satisfactory, not shed with good sense, skilfully as it ought to be.

She goes to write thugs and plotters and Vikings, all pragmatists, but her language is polite, polite, it searches for the boundary line of taste, and remains carefully on the good side, manufacturing sins and informing you that they have been dodged. I protest, "But I do not think that those are sins."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

the transformation imposed on reality

I found a secondhand Vintage Books reprint of Dunnett's King Hereafter with the words "stunningly realized novel" on the back: "the celebrated author of the Lymond Chronicles peels away a thousand years of legend to to uncover the historical figure of Macbeth," but after the first few pages I was reading the language rather than the story because the language was biting me while the story was not and I think it makes sense for animals to pay attention to anything that attacks them (myself a book-animal) so that they can stay away, in future, from the bushes in which that enemy hides itself, and the caves where it sleeps; my animal mind nipped back and now it will express itself in quick barks and bite a flea under the back leg where fleas hide.

I was comparing her to my memory of Henry Treece, whose books I do not have here, but he was a historical novelist too, and one whose work I read when I was a child or teenager, and I was absorbed in them, especially the end of Man With a Sword, in which Hereward believes he is talking to someone when he is in fact falling over dead. For a few words Treece lets you think that the character really is speaking, then he slides up to you with the news that he is not; his death arrives in your mind while you're still occupied by the idea of his dialogue. Reality in Henry Treece's books is made up of these acts of surrealism. I am going to call this effect magical, by which I mean that he uses sleight of hand to show you things you know are impossible; you know they're impossible even while they're happening. Hereward is not dead and alive at the same time because this is not that kind of book; your brain has to turn the idea over and conclude that he is dead or else you can't finish and will be stuck forever mentally at the second-last page.

But reality in Dunnett's book is simple and a person does not hallucinate; instead the colour of their hair is noted truthfully, and they smile or frown to show their moods; every bit of behaviour is measurable, any action can be set out along her invisible ruler, as in, for example, "she parried them, thoughtfully, in different ways. Several places along the table she could hear the Earl her husband doing the same, but more skillfully." "Different ways," being unnumbered, might be infinite; her husband is more skilfully infinite, talent is limitless but even the infinite can be judged; and the author is an utter judge, squinting and saying, "This is less skilful, this more so," but by what measurement?

And like this her language removes her from the world of the characters to an environment of particulate estimation of the vague where she can write, "The ceremony was not a success, and neither was the banquet afterwards, at which the King's mother found herself seated staring across two tables at the young King of Alba, who had the good sense to stare woodenly back."

It was this appeal to alienated assessment that agitated me, these words that measure invisible things so absolutely, a phrase such as "good sense," for example, and then the extension of that evaluating sensibility through the entire book at the level of a white-noise hum with phrases like "perfect teeth" ("Lulach's perfect teeth showed in his slow, charming smile"), or the news that a man in a ship "made no mistake about his landing," or that another man decided to "dwell rather longer than was convenient" in someone's house when he could have gone elsewhere, all these words staving off an opposite existence, sadder and sharper, where teeth are not perfect but scratched or mucky, and a man landing a ship might not be perfect either, a wooden stare might not be good sense or even bad sense but only an ambiguous thing with inestimable consequences, that the success of a ceremony might not be able to be measured in a summary, that the length of a man's stay might not be able to be described with urbane words (that the anger and shame of the host might crack through), and that no one could ever say confidently, "It was a good answer, and a correct one," as the author does at one point, and again, "It was good advice" -- denial, I say, and wring my hands: it pretends to be a world like my real world, but it is not; it is an alien that will not admit itself, staring me in the face -- (I point, it wears an innocent expression, it is a lamb ) -- uncanny animal -- bright -- prose like plastic surgery -- it doesn't know what it is --

This is one of the reasons why I don't write book reviews. Whenever I don't agree with a book I feel frantic and not methodical; I am extinguished by outrage, and I am not like Proust, who attacks Sainte-Beuve in well-paced sentences translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner. He is angry but the speed of the prose in translation is the speed of reason. "Style is so largely a record of the transformation imposed on reality by the writer's mind that Balzac's style, properly speaking, does not exist." (Calm, sharp, thoughtful man, arming himself for the next sentence, rolling up a little ball of trust in the reader's heart, yus, ya, I'll trust him --.) "Here Sainte-Beauve is completely off the scent."

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."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

thereof came the likeness

There is an H.P. Lovecraft character called Shub-Niggurath, or "The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young " -- black goat -- but it didn't occur to me, when I was writing the last post, that I should draw a connection between the mosaic in Patrick White's floor and Lovecraft's Goat. I have an impression of Lovecraft and an impression of Patrick White and the possibility that White might have been thinking of the Elder God from The Last Test and The Mound sounds ridiculous; that possibility was rejected so immediately that I didn't even feel it being rejected, and yet the words, "black goat," if they prompted me to write about paganism, and see goats under olive trees, and think of scapegoats, and fly around looking for legitimate connections, why shouldn't I believe that those words tested the knob on the doorway of this illegitimate connection and discovered it was locked? I never felt their hands on the door, no nerves there, a dead spot detected by rational thought now, and not by instant touch.

Mrs Jolley is "evil," quote, unquote, states the book, saying it not shyly but openly. She drives her employer terrified and frantic, and Lovecraft has his evils as well, that drive people mad, like the evil of the housekeeper, which seems to be an indigenous thing, not the result of poverty or of rough parents in White's depiction of her, but an innate quality, as the indifference of the Elder Gods is likewise beyond explanation. Characters who are good or at least harmless like to recoil from both of them -- you'd think this connection between the two goats would be obvious -- but it isn't, I believe it's pointless, and the more congruous I argue it the more I want to point out that I do in fact think it is incongruous, while the connection between the mosaic goat and classical pagan Greece seems obvious; it was a deduction that leapt up naturally and immediately.

Patrick White would have known the pagan goat (I must have said this to myself without thinking about it), and not have known H. P. Lovecraft's goat, or not have wanted to make a reference to that Goat even if H. P. Lovecraft's stories had been his favourite bedtime reading.

He would talk about good and evil in other terms, I say to myself, classical terms with references to works of art whose importance is supported by years of influence and consideration, and witness the chariot in the title, the merkabah, mentioned in Ezekiel, with four animals to correspond to White's four martyred main characters ("Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man," Ezekiel 1:5), though, now, reading the Shub-Niggurath page at Wikipedia to remind myself of the spelling I see that Lovecraft's Goat might have been inspired, like White's black mosaic, by Pan, or perhaps both Pan and Satan: "we may believe that here Lovecraft was inspired by the traditional Christian depiction of the Baphomet Goat, an image of Satan harking back to the pre-Christian woodland deity Pan," wrote the theologian Robert M. Price, quoted there at Wikipedia.

Satan! I think, and a new word occurs to me: the housekeeper's evil is demonic, in the sense that it is indigenous, as a demon's evil is indigenous. And I start to think, "She is kicking the mosaic in two ways. She gets rid of the things she doesn't like but which she isn't, the scapegoat part, for instance, and she denies the things she is, the black demon of her." It is a kick in several dimensions. The evil Mrs Jolley comes from Melbourne and misses the trams, as do I, though the automated ticketing system is stiff and the inspectors in their bundly dark coats look like Paddington Bears.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

the animals that see

That news is all extraneous to Patrick White's book and no use to you in understanding the novel and no use to me in understanding it either, though it might in some way help me to think about something else, not a thing about novels but a thing about brains, and yet this thing is a thing that I have thought before and am perhaps only retreading, or re-emphasising to myself, driving the groove deeper, and creating an idea-shaped sore or perhaps moat, or else let me go up not down and call the moat a wall or barrier, between myself and other of the world's citizens who think in different ways, or, to give you one example, a man the other day told me that crop circles were not caused by aliens, as the History Channel mistakenly believes, but by fallen angels, a statement that assumed the shape of a gulf between himself and me in my mind, though apparently no gulf whatsoever in his for he told me confidentially that the History Channel people are materialists, hence their reliance on the alien theory and their rejection of the angelic, saying this in a tone of voice that let me know that he believed I now shared with him this fallen-angel-crop-circle picture of the world. Then he asked me if I would like to go to the circus. "Do other people have experiences like this or is it just me?" I asked M., who confirmed that other people in the world did indeed have similar experiences, and that he was personally acquainted with a Taylor Swift impersonator who had been invited out by a hunchback.

The number of events that might occur in this world at any moment is very large and on some future fantasy day I might have to abandon the word "unexpected" because I will have learnt not to be surprised by anything, reaching this state of mind via a system of mathematics combined with an infinite knowledge of objects and actions; in an instant I have multiplied everything and in that way I am never astonished because this thing that has been presented to me is always the answer to one of my million million instant and automatic calculations.

Mrs Jolley in White's book is not like Mrs Flack in that she is poor where Mrs Flack owns her own brick house, but Mrs Jolley is also physically vicious where Mrs Flack is I think solely verbal, and when Mrs Jolley sees a picture of a goat in the mosaic on her unwordly employer's bathroom floor she decides to kick it apart, making a symbolic assault on the anti-philistine sensibilities that White's educated contemporaries attributed to the pagan era (with its mosaics and Mediterranean goats: see: shaggy Pan), denying also truth, clarity, honesty (because the sensitive employer Mrs Hare says, "Goats are perhaps the animals that see truth most clearly"), and additionally killing a scapegoat (the book has character-scapegoats, all this ties in); she is wrecking art and attacking the aesthetic longing that made the sensitive Mrs Hare's father bring Italian craftsmen to Australia so that they could install a goat in his floor, and, then, because the goat is black, she is being a symbolic bigot, the hue black associating itself with the main black thing in the book, the character sometimes nicknamed "the blackfellow," the Aboriginal painter Alf Dubbo.

She is attacking the mansion as well, because it is antithetical to the sharp new houses she prefers, she hates this house on a gut level, and on the most basic level of the story she is behaving like a villain, cruel woman, damaging an object that someone else loves and preferring plumbing to romance. Any Patrick White character who likes domestic convenience is going to be a philistine. It is like a law of nature in his books. It is like weather.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

of that relationship

Separation between people in Matthews' poem comes down to shame -- without shame they wouldn't have to camouflage themselves so secretly -- "A shared culture offers camouflage | behind which we can tend the covert fires | we feed our shames to" -- which reminds me that this idea of a sharp split between the inner and outer worlds of the person has been used by other writers; I've read it recently in Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot, "Where the road sloped down she ran, disturbing stones, her body quite agitated as it accompanied her, but her inner self by now quite joyfully serene. The anomaly of that relationship never failed to mystify ..." -- and why the word inner and why the word outer, and why only two: that's a question, though note that White is an author who likes strong divisions, and he likes to clash them against one another, so that when a sensitive unworldly woman in Riders decides to hire a housekeeper you see that she is really importing a cactus to scar herself against.

Everybody scratches one another in that book, all the characters have some angular difference, and even when they are representing the same general idea they will come at it from different directions, until each example proves something different about the idea; and the martyrdom of the Jewish character in Riders is not the same as the martyrdom of the painter, and the philistinism of the housekeeper Mrs Jolley is not the philistinism of her friend Mrs Flack.

When I see the name "Mrs Jolley" of course I think of Elizabeth Jolley, the author of Lovesong and Mr Scobie's Riddle, and I remember that White often argued with people, but Chariot came out in 1961 from Eyre & Spottiswoode, which is too early for anyone in literature to start feuds with Elizabeth Jolley, who didn't publish a novel until 1980, yet, still, even knowing that, I have trouble reading the name "Mrs Jolley" in this book without imagining a photograph I know of Elizabeth Jolley's face, very black and white with herself coming into the frame diagonally. I do not think that the character looks like this photograph, I only imagine the photograph. Mrs Jolley is not an imaginary woman who looks like Elizabeth Jolley, she is, simultaneously, a line of dialogue on a page and a photograph of Elizabeth Jolley's head and neck inside a rectangular border, which somehow moves around, associating itself with the name Jolley and representing itself in an imaginarily visual sense inside my idea of the sensitive employer's mansion, in the foyer by the staircase with bannisters (this is a picture of a house from some other source; I don't remember if this foyer or these bannisters appear in White's book), but remaining aloof from the housekeeper's beliefs, for those beliefs are not represented anywhere in the works of Elizabeth Jolley, in a way that would make me think that she supported them, and in fact the opposite; she was like White in that she wrote, also, about people scarring one another, and about their imaginations.