Thursday, April 25, 2013
And this book, Finnegans Wake, is so fully occupied by portmanteaus or sentences exquisitely corpsed together, that it never relaxes, there's no part of it that's not playing, nothing seems unconscious (even though the story happens through a programmed swamp of language-subconsciousness), the reader approaches this crossword puzzle for hundreds of pages without ever solving it (because it is so huge), and, considering this, I say it's not a book that wants to feed those associations and crossreferences that occur ad-hocishly, the inadvertent accidental links that live and die in a single person or a group of people, it closes them down, it seals them off, it presents you with its own hermeticism, which is the nature of every book, but this one explicitly and forcefully re-routes you back inside (back to words, I mean), not like Casino, my mind flying away from the movie frequently and thinking of the memoir-woman and her friends who lived in Robert De Niro's house by the golf course, my own connection, mine, worthless possession but I can't give it away, helpless owner, me, all condemned we are, to these pointless gifts or burdens.
Being here in the United States I pick up one thing or another thing that I would not have picked up in Australia, the sun coming up behind the palm trees down the road, the solitary soft luminous cloud shaped like a scimitar over the mountains to the west, then the clouds dissolving into milk, or, then, in another piece of scenery, the South American death-pottery with a hole in the bottom of the bowl so that the spirit can escape, this bowl kept in an archival bag behind the back wall of a museum, and behind that room there is a safe as big as a cupboard, kept shut with a lock like a steering wheel, and within that safe further ceramics, larger and more precious than the bowl, made up like shamans and monkeys, the shaman holding a spiked shell in both hands and smiling away from it in a way that the museum people interpret as ecstasy, these ancient rituals and sacrifices occurring while the participants were in hallucinogenic states, though perhaps not the llamas -- one of the ceramics is roofed with a diorama of five men stretching a llama out on its back like a trampoline mat so that it can be killed with a knife to the stomach -- and anyone who pours water into that vessel and tilts it will hear the clay give a whistle -- or, said one museum worker -- a scream --
But I might have picked up better samples if I had stayed at home, who knows, and thoughts like this make the world hard to judge; you have a faint sense of impossible complexity, you become indecisive, you sit making blog posts for an audience of about two people (hello ZMKC, hello Tom), or you find a magnifying glass for yourself, like the protagonist of Frederick Rolfe's Hadrian the Seventh (ZMKC, your recommendation), who sharpens his opinions of people through a set of temporal aesthetics, loving anything that he can call shapely, active, clean, noble, handsome, or otherwise reminiscent of Ancient Greece, and imagining or thinking that he can clarify his disgust at another character by telling you nothing more than that they are ugly, or they seem "conventional," or that they "bark" when they speak, and they are not like his idea of the Ancient Greeks, a group of people that Ruskin, who must have influenced Rolfe, and whose name he brings into the book, did not like: he liked the Gothic, and in his private journals (1848 - 1873, ed. Joan Evans and J.H. Whitehouse) he had no patience with people who venerated the older Ancients.
I have a lot of sympathy for Ruskin's love of smaller, hidden things, which I can find even here, where the sky, so free of clouds on most days, is one undifferentiated detail, where the mountains are so bare from a distance, and the casinos on the horizon so large and blunt (but Steve Wynn of the Wynn is in love with tassels, as anyone can see when they walk into his current casino, and also the old one, sold by him years ago, the Bellagio -- the interior of the Wynn is decorated with tassels and butterflies -- and a frog on a rainbow waterfall singing Low Rider -- this is known as the Lake of Dreams --).