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.


  1. The Work of Mechanical Reproduction in the [something] of Art? Your efforts to get into just what is happening in Ros' prose are illuminating and humbling. The fish metaphor is great: a aquarium of behaviors one can't comprehend.

    Both of those passages - well, I suppose almost any passage of Ros - demonstrate how easily one can fall helplessly into her prose. It's a kind of anti-reading. One tries to move forward, but she throws up images and conceits that induce a temporary critical paralysis, like one of those mild insect venoms that attack the nervous system. The more one struggles to make sense of what she's just written, the more difficult it is to move ahead. But at the same time, the myriad possibilities, the humorous effect is leavening. "Rachel soon put herself into a position to guarantee slumber." What occult yogic position is this? Millions of insomniacs would like to know.

    1. I wrote a reply to you last night at about half past twelve and it disappeared somehow. The association with Walter Benjamin's auras in the words "mechanical reproduction" is fairly apt here, I think, because Ros does rely on these reproduced cliches (and scrambled reproduced cliches, and weirdly repurposed cliches, like "key to victory") having an aura. Otherwise she could just write "blankets" and not "fleecy folds of nature," in that classical way. She wouldn't have to turn her phrases into the descendents of "finny tribes" and "whale-roads."