Sunday, June 30, 2013

along the carpeted floor on hands and knees

One alliterative name occurs to Amanda McKittrick Ros with an I and then a while later another one occurs with an O so she puts them in; but during the period between those two times no alliterative names occur to her, and so the rich aristocrat doesn't have one. Random: that's how it seems. Bourne on waves. Maybe she had a reason. She will put a metaphor inside a sentence that does not need that potency there; the knowledge will come to her that a bed can be described as a boat of dreamland and so a minor character will fall asleep like this --

Divesting herself of her clothing, Rachel soon put herself in a position to guarantee slumber. She wrapped herself well within the fleecy folds of nature, and in less than ten minutes was safely sailing in the boat of dreamland.

(You could say that sleep itself is the boat of dreamland, not the material object known as a bed, but I'm going to associate the phrase with this bed nonetheless.)

The other characters, even the most important ones, will continue to sleep on normal beds unless a new formula arrives in the author's invention, then they will fall asleep on the new formula. If a new formula never occurs then it will be normal beds forever. Her metaphors never seem preordained, or in other words natural, but they flare out spontaneously and distantly, alienated in their setting, like a fit of epilepsy suddenly on a street. The metaphor'd object does not have to be valuable to the plot, or to anything except itself; it is isolated now in itself, the depth or extension or life she gives to this object is rooted in someone else's version of a fantasy, the idea of a bed as a boat that sails you away to a land of dreams is not uncommon, the author not reaching very far to find the shapes of these decorations, she goes to the closest shop for Christmas streamers, inserting them without any sensitivity toward their setting, and I remember Henri Bergson in his book on laughter arguing that people laugh when they see flexibility being arrested or interrupted or invaded by signs of the mechanical: rigidity, repetition, and automatic reproduction. "The more exactly these two images, that of a person and that of a machine, fit into each other, the more striking is the comic effect."

So I consider the idea of Amanda McKittrick Ros as a machine, mechanically reproducing the effects that have worked for other authors.

The choice of effects is not mechanical: the machine favours alliteration over other techniques, for example. It has its human preferences.

The human preferences are Bergson's "flexibility," the reproduction of the effects is the machine, and Ros brings them close together. Irene Iddesleigh is a uniting agent.

Then the laughter of the Inklings and the laughter of the critics, and the laughter of myself even while I admire (not ironically, not mockingly) the words "icy heights" in her description of Irene Iddesleigh's servant Marjory waiting under the bed and escaping with Rachel's key. And I feel the stairs transformed into Alps.

Marjory, for it was she who lay stretched under the bed of her who never at any time doubted her word or actions, when fully convinced of Rachel’s safe retirement, crept along the carpeted floor on hands and knees, carrying with her the key to victory. Proudly and much agitated did Marjory steal her way along the many winding corridors of carpeted comfort, until at last she came to the bottom of the ghost-like marble steps which led to her mistress; and swiftly running up the icy heights, until reaching the door of danger and blood-thirsty revenge, she, with the caution of a murderess, thrust with great and exceptional care the key into its much-used opening, and heroically succeeded in gaining admittance.

The sequence of events has been directing the reader's attention towards a part of the bed that is not incorporated in the words "boat of dreamland." The top of the bed is the dreamland-boat; that part where the dreamer will stow the sleeping body. The person who is reading for plot is not supposed to care about the top. The plot-reader is supposed to be wondering about the space between the floor and the bottom of the mattress where Marjory is trying not to give herself away. That's where the drama is taking place. The top is less important.

The metaphor-reader is a different person, the metaphor reader doesn't care about the bottom, the metaphor-reader cares about the top.

The words "boat of dreamland" are not important to the plot but they are important to the language universe in a way that is obscure to the reader and yet native to Ros, who swims in that universe like a fish on the other side of the glass that is in front of me: I see it behave, I can deduce that the behaviour is important to the fish's welfare, but the fish is a fish and its gestures are puzzling, they seem abrupt and astonishing, at first she thinks Irene is commendable in the escape scene but some time afterwards she decides that the escape was the act of a moral cripple, the action the same, the attitudes utterly different, as if two woman have escaped and not one, and in fact there is not one Irene Iddesleigh in this book, there are many, all with the same name.

The author admires one woman, distances herself from another woman, thinks one of them deserves to die, thinks one of them deserves to be happy, addresses them functionally as separate beings, and calls them all Irene.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

and ends, as it should commence

The skeleton of Irene Iddesleigh's plot is familiar, the pieces have been plucked up on the roadside like Cheval's rocks: the poor orphan woman Irene has to marry the rich aristocrat even though she really loves a humbly-situated tutor.

But the author adds a surprise that is not a plot twist or anything literary: the tutor's name is Oscar Otwell and the uncanniness of one alliteration falling in love with another alliteration is a conundrum with no answer.

The writing is never conscious of it, Ros never jokes about it, she never suggests that these two people belong together because of their vowels, the proximity is a red herring, it seems to be hinting at an answer, and a writer who did not want the reader to think about it would not have put those names together like that and yet she does not seem to want us to think about it, yet she does put them close together like that, apparently stimulated by a natural impulse that said, "Do this, do this, write an alliteration, write more alliterations," -- so she writes --

The silvery touch of fortune is too often gilt with betrayal: the meddling mouth of extravagance swallows every desire, and eats the heart of honesty with pickled pride: the impostury of position is petty, and ends, as it should commence, with stirring strife. But conversion of feminine opinions tries the touchy temper of opposition, and too seldom terminates victoriously.

She is never ironic at her own expense, she uses a grandly dramatic vocabulary, she invents aphorisms, all techniques that have worked for other people but they don't work for her, critics laugh, Tolkien laughs, I laugh, but where does that accent of instinct come from, what country, what nation, what coastline, what climate?

Not Oxford, where the Inklings were sitting, not that cluster of foreign nations with its don-atmosphere. Not any nonmysterious place. But somewhere so strange that it shortcircuited itself and vanished.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

the worst author

So say there are accents of different kinds pushing the energy of a book in one direction or another direction; there is the author's personal accent, the accent of the tempo on the page, the accent of Johannes Bobrowski in Levin's Mill, the accent-adopting accent of Vivienne Cleven in Bitin' Back, the accent of Dostoevsky (I read The Idiot earlier this year), the accent of Tolstoy; and sometimes an article in a magazine will ask you to choose: are you a Dostoevsky person or a Tolstoy person, where do you migrate, which accent, which area of what probability, which field of exclusion, which coastline, which natural features, which diet, which culture's habits? Where will you live?

(I will not live anywhere. I think I will migrate like a bee.)

As I am reading I am trying mechanically to decipher a personality, not the author's; it is as though I am staring at a face, or in other words consulting a map covered with geographical representations, knowing that it is not the earth. In May Seraillon pointed me at Irene Iddesleigh by Amanda McKittrick Ros, "the worst author in the English language" -- is her reputation -- the Inklings used to read her and laugh -- what a picture, these dons laughing at that woman who had made her patchwork so seriously and faithfully, like someone patching a religion together out of bits and pieces they've discovered and treasured, having faith in those patches, as she evidently did, putting them next to one another humourlessly and continuing on through the strange juxtapositions as if those juxtapositions were not happening, and as if the familiarity of her materials had blinded her to the possibility that they might not fit together -- as if she might say, "I see them in the world together all the time, they are always suitable" -- this absolute faith that one popular object would go together with another popular object and the Faithless Mother storyline would adhere to the Bluebeard Husband storyline with a kind of magical popularity-glue.

Or think of Grimm's fairytales before they were polished and regulated, the strange twists, the remarks like cul de sacs, possibly responding to a desire or question from the oral-story audience in the originals, the odd remark hardening there like a cast around the shape of the question, Ros's brain travelling through the shapes of motifs she'd seen in the books she knew (she was not a broad reader, writes Seraillon) and Irene Iddesleigh hardening around them, the brain removing itself, the cast remaining.

"Outsider art," wrote Tom, and he is right, Ros takes her forms from the established world but the way she assembles and fills them is personal and not normal; it must respond to a personal fantasy. Ferdinand Cheval built his palace out of the rocks he took home from the roadways in his wheelbarrow, one rock started it, a rock with a strange shape like the bark of a fir tree, discovered by himself, then the palace developing over thirty-three years, a little Southeast Asian maybe, a sort of jungle vision in a French paddock. Henri Rousseau, who found himself entering a dream, he said, when he visited the hectares of botany in the Jardin des Plantes, responded to his fantasies by painting tropical landscapes; and the animals in them he never saw unless stuffed or caged, though in the paintings free.

He deserved to be a member of the Academy, he said, an ambition that seemed realistic to him; Ros wondered if she would win a Nobel prize but never did she win one.

Yet if they are both supreme manifestations of themselves (forcing this Themselves idea through into the solid world as Mervyn Peake's characters do without thinking, and Peake's characters are best at this when they are static or hardened, before they begin to change in Gormenghast, book two, when the idea of the ultimate concrete Self begins to withdraw from other people and make itself problematic in Titus) and if they have miraculously emerged from the detritus of the world shining their personal lights through a mass of stuffed animals, public gardens, forest photographs and other objects that have tried to mob them in the same way that these same objects have already mobbed others, and smothered others, and clung to them, shaping them, worrying them, but these two dove into the detritus of the world and dominated it baroquely into their own images until it lay demurely astonished by the transformation that violates the nice guidelines of taste, then what further prize could we give them I ask you, when they have already mistaken all the world for their own property?

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Then thinking about this activity that is not done in other books: the author pretending to search for his own location in his own story, as if, moving on, he has somehow lost the true story, which was abandoned five pages ago he says, slapping an invisible forehead theatrically, though in the eyes of the reader he has not done anything more extravagant than continue the story in the same way that other authors continue their own stories, but no, he says: the real story is the one I left behind five pages ago, or however long he decides to state.

He slaps his forehead again and declares that the third sentence of the real story is going to be represented by the last paragraph the reader has read, even though we're on page forty.

Himself pretending that there are standards that are not really there, and that something external to himself has constructed requirements he is supposed to follow, when the requirements are being constructed by himself on his own (no one else is asking him to stop and reposition) -- pretending that he is obeying some higher or more exact and aesthetic will -- behaving as if he thinks we will criticise him for not telling us the story properly, when really he is writing the story normally, and this stop-and-search operation is the abnormal part. The part that he pretends he's conducting in order to be normal -- is weird -- and the way he frets as if he can hear us muttering at him through the page ("Fix that," mutters the figure he's put in place of the reader, this author who is writing his own reader by implication, and writing over the one who is there -- writing over them with a griping ghost) -- is weird -- but the normal chatty tone continues in translation by Janet Cropper, nice as nice, as if, dear reader he (Bobrowski) is doing this for you, and for himself as well, and the satisfaction of making this story correctly, as it should be done, with the third sentence positioned now on page fifty, and where this leaves the rest of the words we're not sure.

In some strange limbo, is where it leaves them: they are suddenly detritus, the part the reader has been following is detritus, "But it isn't," the reader says. "I've been reading it. I think I'll decide for myself."

No, no, says the author. It's detritus. Now hish hush.

This is a game, with game-rules. All books therefore might be games, with game-rules. The reader has to go along with it (or else close the book or skim ahead), these strange excursions indicating all possible excursions that might occur in books at any moment, and a fresh character introduced in the last few pages, unusually and in defiance of normal narrative activity, as Bobrowski points out, diverting into another chat, very chatty throughout and pretending to expose the mechanics of his own storytelling when the bit of gantry he's exposing is as artificial as the rest.

Very important for Levin's Mill to refind itself periodically. You know that because it takes up portions of its own substance doing so, it spends time doing so, and time in this instance is prose, it is indivisible from prose: when I say that the book "takes up time" doing something I mean that the author has written about that thing.

I take up my own time reading it and the book gives me an opportunity to take up time that way, in fact strokes and provokes and perhaps coaxes me into doing so, and I allow it: I let it take up my time when what it is taking up, is space, in some dimension or another.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


The city character in Bitin' Back has a clear ordinary diction, he speaks the language that the novel could have been written in, and every time I came to him I slowed down because he was disturbing, a character whose accent was a no-accent, it was a book-accent, it was the accent of a conventional book, and too nice and stiff to be a natural representative of speech: the narrator's accent was a less flexible version of a spoken accent, this one was the less flexible version of a book-accent, a regression or bafflement of the same power that had already constructed an accent for the narrator.

The conversations between those two characters were the conversations of two distant poles or universes. The difference was not a difference between the histories or ethnicities of the characters, one from the country, one from the city, it was a mortal difference, it was a change of substance.

The new author so filled up by the process of imagining accents for other people that she never settled into her own slang or voice, so the book was unrelaxed, it jumped with the pressure of imagining, and therefore the movie scenes pastiched into its plot, and the scenes from comedies -- that was what I thought as I read -- the pressure had made a patchwork, and the force-field generated by the elements of that patchwork helped to hold the thing together. The parts of the book stood out separately.

I was anticipating a rowdy climax because the kind of comedy she borrowed from always came with rowdy climaxes. Then it would calm down and the characters would come positively together, because the characters in those films came positively together.

Some time after that I started Levin's Mill by Johannes Bobrowski, because flowerville pointed myself and everyone else in her twitter feed toward Bobrowski earlier this year, and as I went further into it I wanted to read at a fast pace because Bobrowski's language in translation was so shortwinded and it repositioned itself so often, saying, "Now," often. "Now where are we? We're at such and such a point in the story. Done. Let's move on." (I'm paraphrasing, not quoting. The book had to stay at the library.)

Then the author would make a back-sorting or a parody of conscientious research into his own location, pretending that he had to find out where he was in the book, and what he meant, but really it was the machinery of refinding he was interested in, not the actual discovery, since he did not discover himself exactly: he made himself happy with the mimickry of a search; the tempo interested him, the beat or rhythm that went along with the activity of discovery in his book right there, the pause in the book, the refreshing of the memory, the rhythm of the pause and the hunt must have felt right, there must have been pleasure there, it felt like the correct tempo to have just there: it must have satisfied him, the hitch or hiccough in the book when he does that, the retardation of the narrative, the reminding you of himself.

The blessing of the correct feeling entered him. He was revitalised. That's what his accent seems to say, there in the book. Relaxation in spite of short sentences and speed. Distance travelled not related intimately to emotion then.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

justice to the smooth narrow leaf

On Saturday as I was reading the introduction to The Incredible Journey by the Australian author Catherine Martin I copied down part of a paragraph, and on Sunday while the excerpt was still sticky in my mind I found Tom on Wuthering Expectations quoting a piece of speech from The Passionate Pilgrim by Henry James, "Out of England, it's but a garish world," which seemed so contrary to Martin that I added her to the comments on that post, since she said that the English countryside was "strong" and "metallic," and she supported the bushland and the eucalyptus leaf:

Eyes accustomed to the strong -- almost metallic -- verdure of Northern lands, to the picturesquely rent, cleft, furrowed and scalloped leaves of deciduous trees, could not do justice to the smooth narrow leaf, evasive in its hues of grey-green and grey-blue, ranging in shape from the faint crescent of a moon one night old to the round curve of a reaping hook. A leaf exquisite in its grave simplicity as a lotus bud on the shrine of Gotama.

Then she says,

It is as if all the contrasts in the life of European and Australian trees were gathered up in their leaves. Those that slip from their buds in Spring to fall in discoloured clouds in Autumn can well afford to indulge in fantastically ornate edges. But how far other it is with those that often have to face rainless years, to live through droughts that suck the life out of the earth, till it is barren as the sea-shore, bleached and sinister-looking as if overtaken by the fulfilment of the dark prophecy: “on tree and herb shall a blight descend, and the land shall become a desert.”

Deserts -- wrote John C. Van Dyke -- the Southwest American desert -- is beautiful -- and he supported it against the Old World too -- which makes me think that a prejudice against dessicated landscapes is not solely an Australian problem, it is in America, and maybe other places.

True enough, there is much rich color at Venice, at Cairo, at Constantinople. Its beauty need not be denied; and yet it is an artificial, a chemical color, caused by the disintegration of matter -- the decay of stone, wood, and iron torn from the neighboring mountains. It is Nature after a poor fashion -- Nature subordinated to the will of man. Once more ride over the enchanted mesas of Arizona at sunrise or at sunset, with the ragged mountains of Mexico to the south of you and the broken spurs of the great sierra round about you; and all the glory of the old shall be as nothing to the gold and purple and burning crimson of the new world.

(The Desert, 1901)

Myself thinking then of the bushes I've seen while I was travelling through the burning Nevada desert, small bushes, miles of small bushes, brown-green creosote and roughly higher than your knee, sagebrush, sagebrush, spreading across the Big Smoky Valley and around the towns of Goldfield and Beatty on the long way south from Elko to Las Vegas through "a forever geology of heat and shale," to quote the Australian thriller writer Andrew Croome (I'm borrowing that from a post on Whispering Gums), though the portion he describes is fairly short; it runs between the city and the Creech Airforce Base; if he had driven further he would have seen things that were not friendly to a forever geology of heat and shale, he would have seen a pink trailer that is also a brothel, plastic bags on fences, multiple adulterations, for nobody is ever able to leave the desert alone, hurling mattresses into it, skulls of cattle, mine shafts; the small-town casinos where we stopped once, because, as M. pointed out, the handy thing about casinos is that you can use the toilets without anyone asking you to buy. We wee for free.

"Pee" they say instead of "wee" in the musical Urinetown, which had a run with the Nevada Conservatory Theatre in early May -- I think "pee" is the American version of the word -- "It's a privilege to pee," sang Joan Sobel operatically in the role of Pennywise -- she came to town to play Carlotta in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom at the Venetian; the man who played the chief of police had been Pumba in The Lion King at the MGM Grand -- and when I search the internet to make sure I'm getting the name of the company right I discover Carol Cling in the Review-Journal writing, "After all, you can still use a casino restroom without having to ante up in advance," surprising me with the time-delayed unity of our minds: it was an ordinary thought after all.

All the creosote bushes looking fundamentally identical from the window of car or train but if I opened the door and walked through them what differences there, the same with gum leaves. From the car what meditation on sameness, at close range what a zoo of different vegetable ideas, the same and the different under one roof or skin of floral cells, and people stood together in the desert like that might seem the same way.

Loveable singly or unmarshalled
they are merciless in a gang.

That's Les Murray on eucalypts.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

flashing her keen eyes upon Gertrude

Louisa Atkinson, twenty-three, gave her prose its fictional bodily shape (this is how it felt to me, reading Gertrude the Emigrant Girl), by swallowing up the clichés that were living with her in the mid-1800s, this whale drinking in the krill, one example, flashing eyes, "Mrs. Doherty, flashing her keen eyes upon Gertrude," and a brown cheek for a person who worked outdoors, "a healthy glow upon his brown cheek," other habits that appear in other novels establishing themselves in hers, phrases that must have melted easily out of her, familiar words that felt inextricable from one another, "wept bitterly," "plied her needle," and the "musical babbling" of a brook, all of them sustaining her confidence, I'll imagine, letting her make her way forward, clichés being a mechanism by which people advance ("... such old friends, the clichés in our life, are the only strangers we can know," writes William Gass in The Medium of Fiction), a progression that in Henri Bergson's formulation could be described as instinctive, rather than intelligent, the instinctive in this case being the use of tools already to hand, the established ones that fit their purpose, the intelligent being the construction of complicated tools that are excessive to their purpose and offer scope for improvement, two examples, the internet or The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein.

The language that might have been silenced by indecision and worry leaking out like this, through cliché, so as not to go silent, and Louisa Atkinson with relief (I'm still fantasising) able to glide on to the next part. "Yes," she thinks, "that's what I mean, that's what I wanted to say" -- as the cliché slips out -- feeling the satisfaction of being very nicely aligned with the nurturing atmosphere that hangs around a phrase like "flashing eyes", the lushness of that, the homeland of language saluted by its citizen, the writer unexiled -- encouraged she runs her plot though scenes and figures -- the British immigrant, the native-born European, the native-born Indigenous, a bushfire, a cattle stampede, a sheep shearing, a dance, a funeral, a wedding, the child struck by the branch ("here was a folded sheet thrown over the crushed little body, but the crimson tide had dyed the covering, and all that kind, and loving hands could do, availed not to stem it"), the gold prospector, the stockman, the new chum, a corroboree, a fish-catching expedition, a murder mystery, lyrebirds, flowers, teacups, sunsets, Sydney, pigs, the ocean ("Is she near the ocean," M. asked me, "is she Gert by sea?" -- an anthem joke --), a dead horse, a dead kangaroo, a dead wallaby, and home life as it was lived in the bush, in the city, and in a town.

Under the tent of cliché she will introduce not only sermons but also young new words from the country where she's found herself, "they dashed through the heavy stringy bark forest, and belts of scrub, in pursuit of two young kangaroos, or flyers," as well as details that are idiosyncratic enough to have been observed, giving her a kind of life that is not borrowed from another place; it does not even seem to be generally Australian; it seems to be hers:

M'cMaster was a sawyer and employed in the “gullies” at the back of Mrs. Doherty's property; here he lived in a “shanty,” or roof-like tent, of sheets of bark; a sheet of the same material supported on four saplings set in the earthen floor, served as a table; a four legged stool, one leg of course too short, and always falling out when the stool was moved, completed the furniture: an iron tripod, a tin mug, or two, and a couple of common cracked blue earthen-ware plates completed the inventory; for the rest the canvas ticking filled with dry grass, and the dingy blankets and rug, could be laid down anywhere: gloriously independent of mahogany and chintz drapery.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

hours passed in idling, are for ever lost

The Colonial era attempting to translate itself through those two books, Gertrude the Emigrant Girl and Romance of a Station, or helplessly reminding you of itself, the tin bath, the slab hut, the action of fetching water and lighting a fire (and as I read I can't stop remembering that those movements of the firelighting arm are absent now, unresurrected on the island off the coast of Queensland where the Romance is set and where Rosa Praed autobiographically lived during the 1870s with the husband she married in 1872; the movements are ready to be revived at any moment, they are possible and yet they are unrealised, and how many other action likewise, the invisible not-weight of the possible squatting on the world) -- the goat that lived in the pantry and slept in the bath, "he took up his quarters in the pantry by day, and made his couch in the bath by night," things trying to make a home in written language, like a dog getting into a heap of clothes and going round to make a bed, these things becoming the excuse that language has made for itself here, they are its excuse for being on the page, Somebody had to let you know, they say to you, shrugging and spelling goat: something that must be spoken, and that deserves to be spoken (it says, by being so). History is an old book's prosthetic limb.

Reading the sentence about the goat, "he took up his quarters in the pantry by day, and made his couch in the bath by night," I become aware of a thought like an echo, persistant taste on the tip of my mind's tongue, so I summon the brain's-prosthetic known as Google, I track down Exodus 13: 21-22, "And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" -- a rhythmic copying by Praed, maybe unconsciously but it doesn't matter -- the Old Testament drawn into the expressive matrix that Romance of a Station can be observed to inhabit, even though Rosa Praed is not a religious writer, and does not make any overt references to Christianity anywhere in the book, not like Louisa Atkinson, whose Gertrude is characterised by "intrusive explicit moralising," says the critic Elizabeth Lawson, quoted to me by Sue from Whispering Gums who once added that same piece of information to Atkinson's Wikipedia page.

Atkinson loves to segue into a moral lesson, she tells her reader that they shouldn't be shirkers in their everyday lives, and she puts her scenes to work -- no event too small for a homily -- gold-prospector buried down a hole? -- homily! -- child bingled by a branch, dies in agony under a bloodstained rug? -- homily! -- tea on the verandah? -- homily! --

She used to exert herself much through the day, that she might have the evening hours free from interruption; and by allotting each occupation its fixed time, and doing it with all her might, she succeeded. Those who systematically employ time, live really speaking, twice as long as the trifler, moments glide on so swiftly, and noiselessly, that we do not mark their flight; until the grave encloses us, and the hours passed in idling, are for ever lost.

Think of an accent as a set of habits and Gertrude's accent is a Homily Accent. One person with a different kind of accent can say "fink" instead of "think" no matter what they're talking about, Louisa Atkinson can move into a pious lesson no matter what she's talking about: it could be anything, fire, flood, flowers, the goat in the bath, which, all right, it's Rosa Praed's but if you gave it to Atkinson it would be primed for a moral lesson, it would not be able to enter a paragraph without a message hovering around it, waiting to be delivered -- maybe never delivered, but the potential for it to be delivered would never leave. Every book is a field of likelihoods, I open, I read, I pass over an event horizon into a field of restricted probabilities, a mathematical alteration of perception, XYZ ideas removed from the world, ideas ABC emphasised and promoted, as the enormous possible proliferation of words is corralled, repressed, and forced into life through a tube.

My tube, says Atkinson, will be a pious tube. (She didn't have to take that route. She was a student of botany. You wouldn't guess. But it could have been a botanical tube.) Gertrude is the eternal present likelihood of Message.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

move camp, murry

So the accent in Bitin' Back, this insertion of Aboriginal words in English sentences, in Australia goes back to the primordial development of the nation's novel writing; the first book published by an Australian-born woman in Australia does it, I discovered when I read that book, Gertrude The Emigrant Girl: a Tale of Colonial Life (1857) by Louisa Atkinson, which knows it doesn't need to translate "murry" to let you know that it's an intensifier, a "very," when one character says a good farm is "murry big" and a different character, later, when they are confronting a bushfire, tells Gertrude that "the blackfellow move camp, murry quick" -- what else is it going to mean if it doesn't mean "very" -- I go through that process of automatic elimination and end up with an answer, the current of universal life meeting an obstacle there and adopting that alien form with a quick evolution. Swifter than evolution of bees or the animal eye.

(If intellect was flesh then it would be years before I understood, the evolution creeping forwards, diverting into a cul de sac, waiting for the birth of twins, mutations, new eggs, and cell-hiccoughs, before the answer would occur to me.)

When I found "murra" in Rosa Praed's The Romance of a Station (1889) I thought, "It could be the same thing again, an intensifier, with a different spelling:" "murra, make haste" says one character -- make a lot of haste -- Praed footnotes it with an asterisk but didn't need to -- the technique has been maintained, new words can be put into that machinery now, new meanings grasped by me (who has been taught how to see it), the narrator inserting "myall" in Bitin' Back, or "goona," a different language maybe (there are many, not a monolithic language-bloc, the characters living in different areas of the country) but the same habit, a human habit, this creation of an alloy, one language putting itself in another, neither one completely lost. "The boy," states the narrator of Bitin' Back, "look myall this mornin." And a character in We of the Never-Never (1908) by Jeannie Gunn makes a joke as he's waving a spear above his head: "Me myall-fellow."

And exists everywhere, that habit, n'est-ce pas, and has existed in other language combinations. I see it when I read the comments in the Lusaka Times of Zambia and someone writes, "I seriously think the police are doing a kama donchi kubeba on Sata," Sata being Michael Sata, the nation's president, born in 1937, once upon a time a cleaner employed by railway stations in London, now the leader of his nation by democratic vote, "life," wrote Elizabeth Grosz, "is a kind of opening up of matter to indeterminacy, a qualitative transformation of matter into the unexpected, the surprising, the never-seen-before," (Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power, thanks to Anthony@timesflow's links on Twitter) while Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution sees a constant transformational effect ongoing in all of nature, the same thing seen by Marcel Proust, going to Bergson's lectures then putting a fictional shape around his ideas in the Temps Perdu, and, "I'm glad you've read some Bergson and liked him," he writes in a letter to Georges de Lauris, dated April 1908; by that time the philosopher had been married to Proust's cousin Louise for nearly twenty years.

Nothing that happens has ever been done before, writes Bergson, the Australian word "murry" had never appeared next to "big" or "quick" before the foreign alphabet arrived, and the word "very" or other intensifier had never found itself replaced by the letters m-u-r-r-y, but here it is in 1857, replaced, and in 2013, a sensation in me like a tickle when I read it, a reaction to a phantom, the word that is there and isn't.