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.)

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