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.

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