Sunday, March 31, 2013

a house of her own, located approximately

Shirley Jackson's second daughter Sally, who is about three years old, tells her parents that she owns a house in the middle of a river -- the river runs near their home -- it is the site of her alternate habitation, she says, the middle of this river, "Sally now had a house of her own, located approximately and damply in the middle of the river near our house," writes her mother, though no house there is visible to the parents, and the daughter does not try to sleep in the river-house at night, nor does she react towards this imaginary house with any of the behaviours she might have learnt from her parents; she does not check the gutters for leaks or leaves, she does not install furniture, she does not check the window frames for gaps

Ownership of this river-house and ownership of the solid house are two separate states that do not demand the same kinds of manners, and yet this identical language can be used for each one, I own a house there (said by her parents as they look at their solid house) and I own a house there (said by Sally as she refers to the middle of the river), and the girl not lying, you wouldn't say that about her, though what she announces isn't true, but the words that hang in the grey shadows cast by Shirley Jackson's sentences (She is a child, that's how children talk, you know what they're like, they have these imaginations, are the words that do not need to be written because they write themselves and the other words write them), will cover the distance between a lie and the proposition that the child has offered to her family -- that she owns a house in the middle of the river "in which," writes her mother, "a number of small children Sally's age lived in utter happiness upon lollipops and corn on the cob."

If sentence frameworks were somehow mono-meaningful and physically restrictive (growing or slipping their tentacles into the fleshy world and puppeteering or gripping violently) then her explanation would bind her to the same manners that her parents use when they express their ownership of their solid home, buying furniture, checking the heater when the water goes cold, or, otherwise reverse that and say that, by speaking, she would have forced her parents to behave the way she does, neglecting the heater, forgetting the leaves in the gutter, and so on.

Otherwise the two groups of people would not be able to say I have a house in the middle of the river as well as I have a house by this road: the words would be inconceivable. And when I remember that Geoffrey Hill in his Oxford lecture War and Poetry stated that "words are warps of signification embodying passions," then I see that Sally is freed by her passions into this nonrestrictive field of warps as are we all but socially less free as we pass the ages of seven and nine and eleven and the adults gradually forget to shout, "She has such a wonderful imagination, isn't she sweet," if we tell them we live in the middle of a river with a group of friends our own age, eating lollipops; they no longer feel so dominant and therefore no longer counsel themselves into helplessness when confronted with our imaginations, in short they tell us to shut up.

Sally does not let the words make any heavy demand on her, they are her small wands, she waves them and has an effect on her mother, who takes a typewriter and types the words, "Sally now had a house of her own, located approximately and damply in the middle of the river." The meaning of the words "to have a house" will change for the child from one utterance to another, she imposes this change on the minds of her mother and father, who hear her and understand that she is in and not-in a certain state, which they also, now that they have heard her speak, can't avoid inhabiting, writing "approximately and damply" of a house that is not approximate and damp because it is not there.

"In my river," Sally remarked once, chillingly, "we sleep in wet beds, and hear our mothers calling us," -- giving me a sudden terrifying picture of my own face, leaning over the water, wavering, and my voice far away and echoing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

a few vain attempts at imposing our own angular order on things

So sometimes I think I have seen the same thought running through the heads of two different authors, I look at one work and see a similarity to another work, or I believe that I do, a brilliance discharges in my brain, I seeth, I connecteth, I build for myself in my own head an electrical maze or web that might be somewhat like the one inside the skull of the conspiracy theorist I overheard the other day who was explaining the effect upon the world of J. Edgar Hoover's initials (not his behaviour, only his initials, which begin and end that other name, Jahweh), this seated and excited man who lifted his arms as he began to explain everything he had realised about the connections between one phenomenon and another phenomenon, 1. the initials, 2. that part of the world that is not the initials (We all like to talk, says Javier Marías in his long work, Your Face Tomorrow: the one thing we love to do is talk.)

I run through that maze (and what do I mean by I here, an old question I know but it bothers me that "I run" must suggest to you that I have planned to run and then carried out my plan by running when I do not recall making those particular plans, the running was instant and devised in my mental musculature by forces that do not seem to be me, or are only me insofar as they inhabit a similar space, whatever that is, but moving on before you die of boredom, let's get to the end of this -- ) and believe in that coincidence, even though I know that in a fortnight I could have read the second text for the first time and failed to observe any connection, and that the road I follow from one to the other is less strong than the leg of a fly, the first thing does not inevitably lead to the second but only when the mental wind is blowing right, and one week's connecting bridge is next week's sheer cliff with a strict and repressive face, the stones across the river come and go, these intuitive and fallible connections -- these connections that feel like serendipity can be -- fog -- above what, over what? -- the future: I don't know -- this object I've detected might never have existed although how is that possible -- which leads me to say that as I was reading Shirley Jackson's autobiographical book Life Among The Savages to see if she was going to explain anything about her novels, I noticed that she paid attention to the idiosyncrasies of children's-language, and my mind said to me, "Christina Stead," clearly; after that I noted Christina Stead's presence whenever one of Jackson's children appeared on the page, even though there is no other relationship between Life Among the Savages and The Man Who Loved Children, even the children-characters themselves are not depicted in similar ways, the tones of the two books are different, the intentions of the authors are not the same, every other aspect of the books says, "They are not alike, they share nothing."

Jackson in Life is very wry, the children are grist or corn for her motherhood memoir, and she repeats their conversations as does one who is surrounded by eccentrics, and who wants to prove to a stranger, in this case the reader, that the report of these eccentrics is true, and that the reporter is neither lying nor exaggerating. These people (she implies), how do I deal with them? I'm patient, I say, yes dear, I feel helpless sometimes but I go on. She will cope but they will continue to be strange, and that is the relationship of child to adult in this book.

(There will be this vale inside them; their alien concerns are impenetrable but she can work with them if she is careful or learns certain formulae; they are like the models of all other people, large or small, mostly blank but usually manageable, willing to withdraw the evidence of themselves from public display if you push and twist them a little, the conspiracy theorist falling silent when the speaker whose question time he had hijacked finally decided to cut him off, the audience around him signalling its desires). In Stead the parents do not cope and the adults are not little castles of normality for the children to besiege though when you notice how Henny Pollit, the mother, addresses the child Louie when they go shopping -- like one who is surrounded by eccentrics, yes child, no child, I'm being patient -- you could confidently suggest that if she had been hired to write a memoir it might have the same tone as Jackson's: here I am, a castle of normality, coping with weirdos, helpless in the face of fate but rolling my eyes and shrugging gamely.

(The despair that people remember when they read The Man would not make it into the Henny memoir, this is light and wry, recall, that's the expectation, and the discord in the Pollit house, terrifying, crimson, the violence of harpies and dragons, might be expressed like this line in the Jackson: "After a few vain attempts at imposing our own angular order on things with a consequent out-of-jointness and shrieking disharmony that set our teeth on edge, we gave in to the old furniture and let things settle where they would." That kind of settling for things, in Stead's book, is the sign to the reader that the family is sinking into a terrifying slum ; in Jackson it is cosiness, the disorder is warm, the mother is affectionate.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

accidental deaths, acts of God, and so on

As I was reading the book One Human Minute by Stanislaw Lem (translated by Catherine M. Leach) I believed I was perceiving the same thought pass through two minds, his and Gertrude Stein's.

Then I had dim ideas about the distance between those two minds and decided that this same current of thought must probably run through all people because it is only a small idea, which these two have made visible by describing it, throwing ink on a ghost, voila, the invisible one appears -- it is not an amazing thought -- but it is an expressed thought, that is the noteworthy part, and the manner of expression is noteworthy -- in fact it's an ordinary thought, a boring thought, a banal thought -- why did they bother dedicating books to this, why not go on a hike instead, or learn Chinese, which would put them ahead of the curve and give them an unmistakeable advantage whenever the opportunity to communicate with a Chinese person occurred, as well it might, at any second, making the urgency a very pressing thing if it had ever struck them what was at stake, instant communication with someone who might have read The Story of the Stone in its original language, a book I have not been able to get hold of yet in all of its five volumes -- and the thought they were expressing was this: "That it is impossible to describe everything about anything," an idea that Stein approaches by trying to describe "the history of every body," starting with one family and reaching nearly a thousand pages without leaving that one family, most of the book taken up by the in-laws, her prose getting more computerised and itemising as it goes (more desperate, less ordinarily human as it struggles after this superhuman, super-generous or despotic, goal), which is the point that Lem starts from, pretending to be a reviewer or critic who has been asked to read a book called One Human Minute, a compilation of statistics, each statistic representing an activity that human beings are performing during any given minute: forty-three tonnes of semen are ejaculated, a number of people die by hanging themselves, an amount of electrical energy is used, and so on, through different areas of endeavour sifted smaller and smaller, first Death, then suffocation, then kinds of suffocation (a parent rolling over on a baby).

First come the data summaries, then the breakdown into specifics. In this way you look first at the whole subject of death as through the weak lens of a microscope, then you examine sections in ever-increasing closeness as if using stronger and stronger lenses. First come natural deaths in one category, then those caused by other people in a separate category, then accidental deaths, acts of God, and so on.

In the second edition of this book the authors add facts about "the earth as mankind's habitation," clouds and lightning also represented by statistics, but (writes the narrator at one point, mentioning another imaginary reviewer) all of these statistics make you think of the parts of human life that can't be represented by statistics, and I came from One Human Minute with the impression that this comprehensive book (the imaginary one being reviewed I mean, not Lem's book, which is too short even to be a novella, it's more like a long short story) would seem negligent if I had it in my hands (though it is not negligent, it is only paying attention to volumes outside the normal range of human comprehension, it is microscopically and telescopically detailed, the numerical proof of mountains' worth of meat chewed and swallowed in one minute is "like images from Gulliver's travels to Brobdingnag", those masses of teeth removed from the subtlety of their servant minds, the proportions of their eating-action not the human-scaled proportions that we usually see the eating-action from, not our own gentle enamel rabbits intimately at graze, or our teeth plus the teeth of only a few other people around us making their knobbling noise behind the rotting curtains of the cheeks (removing the rest of us to the theatre-wings of their mouths, overhearing the action being muffled on the stage), but they have the proportions of the planet, as if the world is covered, for the length of time it takes you to read that statistic, with mechanical teeth remorselessly mashing animals apart; the statistics are diabolically correct, leaving the imaginary reader helplessly confronted with this knowledge, so that the book is not in fact skimpy, it is skimpy in one area and hypertrophically proportioned in another) but if I had it in front of me I would think that the actually-nonexistent Human Minute in its lopsidedness only covered very little like a raincoat that shelters the head but not the legs, and the same with Stein's nine hundred plus pages, which confess that they cover almost nothing.

I think the literary answer to this problem is sentences, by which I mean compression and crushing-in, each word in a sentence signalling to the other words and structures that have invisibly surrounded it (and the reader's reading-experience allows them to see or intuit those structures, mental architectures being built and illuminated by the dove-grey sponge in its cathedral), so that human experience is not itemised but hinted-at, with the tauntness of the one ball of matter that before the big bang hinted at the universe. Though I do not know physics I do see, when I glance at it, some attempt to express complicated systems with equations, not pages and pages of answer-numbers, but equations that hint at all permutations of the answer-numbers; say then that each prose sentence is an equation with the equals sign implied. The burning world and universe (which churn their own dissolving ashes) could be represented by an equation. That seems to be one goal of people who make equations, and who believe or hope that one day they will write the perfect sentence in their numerical way, which may be possible, say Stein and Lem (without actually saying it), because this spelling-out solution of theirs is not possible so bring on the absolute compressive act, one very short statement that represses nothing. Everything would be uttered simultaneously without being said. Then what, I don't know.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

left of us twain

Twos, twos, twos, in that piece by Clark Ashton Smith, the two statues, the two environments, the sea and the desert, the winds coming from those two places, the city balanced between them with a tense steadiness, the two metal images opposing and complementing one another; you have extremely moving things, fire and sea, and extremely nonmoving things, metal and rock, the altar is characterised by two nouns, "fires and blood-stones," day itself is represented by a pair of effects, 1. the setting of the sun and, 2. the writhing fires of the sacrifice, the moon is distinguished by two adjectives "cold and marble," the same word will be written twice, "Stone was fallen from stone, atom parted from atom," and there are more pairs in the pestle-grinding movement of this sentence (each set of words between each pair of commas is another step on the route to the conclusion): "rust and verdigris, crawling from mouth to nostrils, from knees to throat, had left of us twain a little pile of red and green dust," some of these paired items related by their similarities (cold and marble) others magnetised by their differences (the sea and the desert).

The wholeness of the setting, the position of the city, the configuration of the statues, the day, the moon, all depends on the collaboration and antagonism of pairs: any pair has an obvious weakness, it needs both elements or else it dies. It is a false fixed point. This fictional reality is being imprinted on the reader very quickly with twos, it has been hypnotised into existence by twos, and the absence of twos exists in the background in the shape of a nihilist threat; the absence of twos is the absence of the story and of the reader of the story, who will have to become a reader of something else, or of nothing.

Equilibrium itself is being murdered in the statue's vision, equilibrium is unnatural and constructed and tenuous, nature comes in, nature makes it disintegrate, nature repaces it with nonhumanity and a natural indistinguished mash, or a collection of natural objects that the statues can't evaluate, though I suggest that they are emotionally throttled by the language around them which would rather describe a thing through the senses and say, "Green, writhing, sultry," than evaluate it and say, "Uncouth." They are debrained a bit, by language.

Threes are not impossible in this story, "rain, and wind, and sun ," and there are ones, "blue fire" but two two two is the rhythm.

Setting up and pulling down are the two forces in the story, they are the whole story, everyone in the city living offstage somewhere, "the people thereof," these anonymous bodies coming on to make sacrifices when the reader isn't looking, having no other existence. There is no history except the existence of the images, we never hear of anyone building the city but the position between two environments seems deliberate, carefully placed as if it's going to be there forever (as people seem to themselves eternal, as the present situation seems eternal, a person becoming a situation) though it will not last; the shivering steady thing will be dissolved helplessly, and destroyed and will never come back; the god won't save it, the violence of the sacrifices is going to do nothing, the irresistible and magnetic compress of fate coming in to destroy the temple, the images are helpless, they are victims, and not kind, but they are like royalty that does not share its feelings, O the reliance of the language on those evasive sense-words, and the nature of that one evaluative word, "uncouth," the snobbery of it, the language a language of one above.

Put this in the category of fantasy stories that agonise over the destruction of monarchic social structures and the onrush of the mob, ie, democracy, a category less popular now than it used to be, not that it was ever madly popular or huge as far as I can tell.

Smith in his stories sucks up inspiration from the undemocratic thrilling and horrified pride that venerates kings, emperors, tombs of nobles, and the destruction of them, the extremes, deserts, mountains, the darkest ether, the dying sun, sadism -- and phrasemaking, the royalty of writing in the democracy of writing: "merchantry of necrophores" is his name for the mass of worms under a graveyard in The Mortuary, this flourish of a phrase set up on its throne with nostrils flaring, eyebrows fluming, supported or not by the populace -- his faith is a faith in the thrusting power of words like "king" "empress" and "tomb," this faith in a card house that could blow down at any moment if a reader comes along who doesn't care about royalty or dust. "Morbid snob," the reader says. They read Dunsany instead, who liked to sit on a hat. His witches grew cabbages. "At least Dunsany has a sense of humour."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

a bronze image facing an iron image

Call it a feral magnetism, call it a compulsive horror, the apparent love of one thing for another thing all the way up and down the universe, the perceived mutual contemplation of object on object, refusing nothing that presents itself, the eternal announcement, "There you are and here I am," echoing between ideas or events, which reminds me (no more Heike now, I'm veering) -- which reminds me of an American author named Clark Ashton Smith who lived and died in California (1893 - 1961), a writer for Weird Tales, a letter-writing friend to Lovecraft and to Robert E. Howard, and the thing that struck me while I was going through the prose poems section of a Smith fansite named The Eldritch Dark, was the presence of disintegration and the oppositional presence of solids, stones, or monuments, the passing-away of imperial or kingly power, the dissolution of cities, and especially one short piece called The Image of Bronze and the Image of Iron: the pull of the story goes in two ways, transience and solidity, represented by metal or stone versus decay or dust -- here it is, as I found it at the website, with a few edits for clarity -- spaces were missing --

In the temple of the city of Morm, which lies between the desert and the sea, are two images of the god Amanon,- a bronze image facing an iron image, across the fires and blood-stains of the alter-stone. When the gory sunset of the day of sacrifice is over and the writhing fires of the sacrifice are dead, and the moon smiles with a cold and marble smile on the blackened altar - then Amanon speaks to Amanon, with a voice of iron, and a voice of bronze. . . . Thus, and nor otherwise, the image of iron speaks to the image of bronze:

"Brother, when the censers which are wrought of single sapphires and rubies, had turned the air to a blue mist of perfume, and the red serpents of the fire were fed on the heart of the sacrifice. I dreamed a strange dream: Methought, in some far day, - a day as yet unprophecied of the stars, the temple and the city of Morm, the people thereof, and we, the images of its god, were one with the sand of the desert, and the sand of the sea. Stone was fallen from stone, atom parted from atom, in the corruption of rain, and wind, and sun. Lichens, and the desert grass, had eaten the temple to its plinth, and the cold, slow fire of rust and verdigris, crawling from mouth to nostrils, from knees to throat, had left of us twain a little pile of red and green dust. The roots of a cactus clove the altar-stone, and the shadow of the cactus, like the uncouth finger of some fantastic dial, crawled thereon thru days of blue fire, and nights of sultry sulphurous moonlight. Blown thru the lonely market-place, the wind of the desert offered the dust of kings to the wind of the sea."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

would suit one another

This transience in the Heike, the characters pass but the story remains, the reader's transience proves the permanence of the story, we are unbearably destroyed, it unbearably retains itself, meanwhile warning itself that it will pass too. That is its lesson, which it is avoiding.

In Shirley Jackson's Sundial the people are refusing to change and not even refusing, they don't know that change would be possible, they have never thought about it, the proud and crimson notion of self-critique has never occurred to them, and even the end of the world and the death of every other human being is not changing them; the apocalypse won't complete their selfishness, the awesome dynamite of the air leaves them placid.

If they were made immortal somehow by the disaster then they would not change either (because the author has made them changeless), and if you transferred Murasaki Shikibu's characters from the Genji to the modern age they would still refer to people by their titles and by their descriptions (because she has made them that way), the names on their own feel too bare to these Heian souls even though the moderner tells them it is fine, it is a habit now, nobody minds, look you can call me Hiroko, I don't care, I'm wearing a Pokémon hat, but it would be the nature of a name to be ashamed of having been said, when they did it, the word "Hiroko" sounding filthy; they are like polite children who have been required to shout "fuck" and the Shining Prince shines red for he is blushing, he is bringing the old age back in a sluice of blood.

So, stasis in the Shirley Jackson, stasis implied, and in the Heike it is transience implied; the emphasis is on the characters' fortunes, not their behaviour, and those fortunes change. But in The Sundial Shirley Jackson is staring at her people's behaviour and introducing their changed fortune (the end of the world, the destruction of all human life, the firestorm) only as a sort of sarcastic counterpoint.

The reader scans the two books, the reader searches for new lessons since lessons seem to be hinted at or stated in the styles of each, the reader notices that the matriarch of The Sundial and Kiyomori in the Heike are very close to one another personality-wise, they are both stubborn, and the old woman on her deathbed would be calling for Yoritomo's head too, and Kiyomori, if he had been facing the end of the world, would be putting measures in place to assure his ongoing dominance in the new world, as the matriarch does, sorting out her crown and a golden dress, and if the author Shirley Jackson does not respond to her actions by calling her "profoundly sinful" (like the anonymous authors of the Heike regarding Kiyomori) then it is only because she, the writer, has moved into a phase of authorial repose that you could refer to as a cynical shrug. And what small touch or nudge would need to have occurred before she could have written those words, "profoundly sinful," instead of the ones she chose (native to her blood, the words she chose), what rotation on the axis of events, what refounding of cities or nations, the reconstitution of her childhood, the distribution of her feelings in a new direction, pushed there by some event that never in this plane occurred?

The reader looks at Kiyomori, looks at Mrs Halloran, and realises, "Those two would suit one another." This is the moment of inspiration and they announce, I will write a fanfic.

Conjunction! Kiyomori and Mrs Halloran! The fanfic writer pursues that conjunction, the conjunction is the point, the permutations of that conjunction, kinks, romance, murder, or whatever else, the conjunction being an intensifying agent or otherwise species of excitement-food, quick stab to the braincells that then suffer the ancestral memory of their freedom as single-celled organisms millennia ago traversing the nourishing slimes, this conjunction is the vehicle of change, therefore of transience -- the situation, as it has existed up to this point, ends -- the situation before in which Mrs Halloran and Kiyomori were not united and no connection between the Sundial and the Heike seemed possible ends, as, suddenly (genuinely suddenly, I say from experience, since it occurred to me as I was writing that last part of the sentence, "would suit one another" -- okay -- idea!) the connection is possible and likely and even demanded by the thought and why not, in this world where a thought can make anything seem mandatory, pretty much anything; and call that inspiration, call this Georg Trakl's "sweet corpse" at a different register, call it a ruthless magnetism.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

building me temples and pagodas

This blurb on the inner flap says that the ur-theme of the Heike is transience -- "the fleeting nature of power and glory" -- the writer of the blurb taking into consideration the deaths of so many warriors and aristocrats, the dissolution of the incredible and nuanced Heike strength, the more-than-a-few references to Japan as a collection of "scattered millet grains" as if the nation is in danger of being licked up by a chicken, the characters comparing their lives to dewdrops, the assessment of passing tears in the sleeves of the aristocrats' robes, "they moistened their sleeves" (again and again), the number of buildings burnt, a statue of the Buddha accidentally melted, the capital shifted to Fukuhara then shifted back, the characters who renounce the world to become monks, nuns, or suicides, the multiplicity of rivers and sea-waves that need to be crossed; and the story is horrified by the opposite of this idea, Kiyomori's recalcitrant stubbornness, immobile and determined man, glaring at the skulls in his garden, not running away from the giant trickster face, and even the agony of his burning fatal illness will not stop him wanting Yoritomo's head.

"Never mind building me temples and pagodas,
never mind pious prayers for me once I am gone.
No, I want Yoritomo's head off and hung before my grave,
that is the only commemoration I wish."
What profoundly sinful words!

His stubbornness is not natural. But it might not be wrong to say that the Heike is in awe of him as Paradise Lost is in awe of Satan.

And yet the structure of the book in Royall Tyler's translation is steady, not fleeting or changeable, it stays around exerting its pressure on events, which are never allowed to wander away from the centre. The parasol stories can be romances or tragedies, they might involve a crowd in a city, they might describe lovers reciting poetry in a still garden at night (one parasol can be the opposite of another, is the point I'm making), but they are always relevant to the Heike clan or its enemies the Genji (they are in sympathy, these parasols, the mask changes but the purpose always keeps the same face).

Not one of the characters is immune to the gravity of the book. It binds them to its planetary surface. It bears them in the field of its momentum. Their transience is not transience for the reader, who sees them fixed by this gravitational pull. The reader's feeling for transience is being inhibited by the form of the book while it is being piqued by the events and language in same book, this Venus fly trap that tongues me in by talking about things passing, exciting movements, but it keeps me there so that it can survive and endure, and not suffer that dewdrop life itself, not pass away, so it becomes a TV show, it becomes a film, it becomes a book in translation, it becomes a kabuki play and another kabuki play, it draws "on all the technology around," as Hugh Kenner wrote once about Homer: "Homer is the West's six trillion dollar man. For two millennia and a half at least we have kept him alive and vigorous with an increasingly complex and costly life-support system that from earliest times has drawn on all the technology around" (which comes from his essay Ezra Pound and Homer). The reader enters that machinery.

Here's a picture: a book is a door, a small metal door into the side of a machine, into an engine, it is the petrol cap, the reader unscrews the front cover, the reader pours themselves in, the machine keep growling, the characters revive in their two dimensions, they go through it all again, the reader is three-dimensional, they can see into the guts of the two-dimensional character-animals, the story is on another plane, no one knows the name of this plane, no one has a number for this plane; the book stays still and feeds.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

for you, reader

Telling M. how the Heike was structured I picked the idea of a television series, saying to him, look, you have one large umbrella-idea that runs from the start to the end, and in this work it is the rise and fate of the Heike clan, the rise so proud and domineering that you wait for them to fail because the laws of life say that everything must fall, gravity, hubris, old age, all that feeling. Then they slip, they slip further, someone burns a monastery by mistake, this error haunts the rest of the piece, they're toppling now, and you wait to see them meet the ground. The slip and then the fall are two sub-umbrellas under the main umbrella, as in a season of television you find one large umbrella -- how are we going to defeat the monster that appeared in episode one? -- then smaller umbrellas -- are those two warriors going to fall in love? followed by the question, is their relationship going to last now that he has discovered she is a werewolf?

Under those umbrellas you find the still-smaller sub-umbrellas or tiny cocktail parasols that run for a few hundred pages, or ten pages, or one page, the story expanding into the realm of the very small as if discovering first its own molecules, then the particles inside the molecules, which sometimes are single chapters or songs meant to be recited or sung; the Heike is a performance cycle, the collaborative composition of many people, which is a point of difference between this and that other long Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji, work of a single woman (though you can assume (along with the scholars) that her daughter or some other person wrote chapters near the end, also how much did it change when the readers who wanted to keep the book decided to write copies for themselves in that age before mechanised printing, with us having only the transcriptions, no original, and the earliest partial, material, and fragile copy dated one century after the author died?), written down, read aloud after it had been written but written first, written prime, written before anything else, existing first in a written form, emerging first like a rising vivid squid that comes like a blushing rosebud into the expressive extroverted part of the world when Murasaki Shikibu began to draw the letters with her brush, starting its life in a bath of ink, George Eliot almost a thousand years later in Adam Bede explaining the theory, "With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader," though the next line about showing us the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope is not in any sense applicable to the Genji, which is about a prince of the Heian period living in Kyoto where people often do not even have their names mentioned because those words said and abandoned to the air and to the ears, not kept safely in the mouth and mind but stripped nude so that they can be thrust into the intelligence of any passing terror, are too accusatory, too brutal, and the author prefers not to turn them into a public spectacle by vulgarly writing them down.

Which leaves the readers righteously confused but at least the nonexistent people in the book have had their feelings respected.

Which is an interesting notion, the politeness of Heian life, in which real people are only mentioned circumspectly by their titles or by a description, so as to avoid the crass nakedness of names and simultaneously to intensify the social-inbred atmosphere of the courtly clique (where you have to be in the know to fully appreciate everything), this politeness applied to fictional characters, whose feelings can't be hurt, who will never judge you no matter what you call them, who will never snub you or discriminate against you, who will never have their revenge even if you call them by a familiar slang, these characters treated as respectfully as if they were standing next to you, or sitting in the building over there, fanning themselves and ready to take offence (increase in politeness equalled by the steady increase of possibilities for delicate offences and insults, one tree with many flowers), and yet they will not know you, the fanning woman will never refer to you as anything at all, not even circumspectly, which means that you will never beat her at this niceness-game, and she will continue to sit fanning in her cage, radiating impermeable manners (since in order to permeate them you would have to extract the character from the book), and beating you. (The characters have never lived and yet they are also Heian.)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

with many blows

As for the decapitated son in the Heike -- forever now running, forever now without his head and running at the same time, headless and running or running into his father's sword -- save yourself father, he says, run away, but no says his father and off goes the head, poor perishing child who never knew, when he approached his father at the age of two or three, that this day was in his future, that this father who gave him a cake would one day take off the head that ate the cake -- I had to look him up too for he had faded like shadows. I remembered his M and none of the other letters. He was this:


That gap was occupied by I-don't-know-what, an impression or artificial fullness, reassurance, or enough padding to make the word behave like a name, non-intact but nameful, an echo mistaken for a speech. When I remembered him running away from Imai Kanehira a thought came into my head, "What's after the M?" This was a new feature for him, and not in the poem. It was a trait added by myself and no other person. What was his father's name; that was another mystery, and so there were all these mysteries around the mysteries in the story as it would have been if it had been recalled fully in every detail by myself which is how I pretend to remember it when I say, "The Heike is like the Iliad in such and such a way --" all the while feeling endless avenues of but opening here and there as I run down the corridor of this proclaimation, all opening behind me where I cannot see them, still, other people, seeing, saying, "Monsters coming out of that door," like spectators in the audience of a horror movie, pointing, "The Iliad you say?", galloping over that connective bridge even as they doubt it, monsters coming to get them too, coming, coming, coming; and each book teaches a new system of forgetting.

If I knew in advance what I was going to remember then I could have a book made -- I don't know how but it could be done if I had a prophetic telepath and a research assistant; I'd outsource -- with nothing in it except the parts of novels that I was destined to remember. I would read nothing except that book. Then I could start speaking about books or writing blog posts exactly as I'm doing now, based on everything I was supposed to recall. The outsourcee would know when I'd need a reference too, so they'd leave page numbers, eg, they'd write,

son can't escape, running, endangering father, they are being attacked, "Muneyasu was too fat to run even a hundred yards" (Heike, page 436, about three fourths of the way down the page, Seno-o, father won't go, waits with son, beheads him, invites death, slashes at enemy, eventually dies, see pg. 437, "They answered him with many blows | until at last they struck him down.")

I had to look up the page numbers to write that too. It was blahnumber filling the gap this time instead of blahname. If a book disappeared as I was reading it, piece by piece, each page dissolving after I had left it for the next one, and I couldn't go back, I think it would be as if I had eaten it, gone like that.