Thursday, December 19, 2013
the earth is her habitation
But Ada Cambridge does not behave as if she is agonised, the way butoh dancers often do (or as they are known for doing, with their whitened faces, hands turned back, lips quivering, etc); she writes as if harm is always about to arrive and yet like the storm it invigorates her. "Bee—a—utiful!" In her first autobiography she wants to touch a wrecked ship: "When the Ormuz had that accident in the Rip she so tightly filled the dock that her skeleton bow was almost within my touch. No more do I wonder at what ships can go through, having seen how that giant frame was put together. I went down to the bottom of the dock and held up the great hull in the palms of my hands. It was a strange sensation." Noticing here that she remembers "almost" touching it as well as touching it, and that she had to move to complete the touch. "I went down ..."
So her characters like to touch as well and important moment in her book are sometimes marked by touching, one character hands another character a tray in A Humble Enterprise and their worlds change: the tray travels, a ship travels in Uncle Piper, the circumstances are altered, the first character goes from poor to rich like the ones in the Tasma book. It takes longer than just the tray-pass, but the tray-pass is the crucial moment. "The world became a changed place to Jenny Liddon from the moment when Anthony Churchill stood up to take her tray." Then she goes to the sea to think about it. "It was absolutely necessary to have the sea to commune with, under the circumstances -- darkness and the sea." She goes to a genuine place, St Kilda pier, or in other words a place that the author could herself touch and probably had touched.
Afterwards, when she has decided to marry Anthony Churchill, she is still invigorated by the weather on the pier at night: "nightly taking her down to St Kilda for that blow on the pier which still refreshed her more than anything."
The touch of a train half-orphaning her in the opening paragraph, and the launch that throws the couple overboard in the opening of Sisters destroying the book that had been building until then and transforming it into another book.
Thinking now of Leopardi in his Zibaldone saying that a state of nature is the happiest state, because it allows for "illusions" whereas reason does not allow for illusions and therefore makes a soul unhappy: the people of his day were unhappy because they had decided to rely on reason instead of nature, they were developing farther from nature with every year, he said, and as I remember him I wonder if he would believe as I think I do, that Cambridge is obliquely in sympathy with that point of view, or not even obliquely when she refers to "the dictum of nature, who is the mother of all wisdom" -- nature in this case advising everybody to get married -- A Humble Enterprise is a book that wants you to marry, which I suppose means that Ada Cambridge, the author of that book, is mistaking herself for nature and that the dictum of nature is in fact the dictum of Cambridge. Nature wants you to marry someone because it will make you enjoy touch: "the husband necessarily makes his wife feel that the earth is her habitation and the clouds of heaven many miles away."