So there's humour in a disability, I mean Ruskin thwarted, but Ruskin with his skill is showing himself thwarted; the paragraphs are his triumph over a defeat that he is pretending to have (say that he only pretends to have it so that he can win, suggest that all writing is winning, and that the hapless compulsion to write in Beckett's narrators is the hapless compulsion to win, life's betrayal of the loser), the physical matter of the world is against him (but revenge!, he calls its bluff), it is the comedian: it presents him constantly with girls when he wants forty male thieves, the shapes of bodies standing between himself and any evidence of the world's sympathy for his desire for men's presences, just as the physical world stands in front of all artists and indeed in front of all spirits as they steer around in their skeletons wondering what is going on and why doesn't anything work as well as it should and "how did any man twist away | soul-free from that shining," asks Geoffrey Hill (who believes in Ruskin and has mentioned him in poems. During one of his Oxford lectures he notices that he is in the place that Ruskin and Carlyle occupied over a hundred years before, and he says so, and repeats it), contemplating the substance of underground coal and the miners who worked it, in his homage to Wales, Oraclau/Oracles -- art is one of the refinements of that -- the idea is hovering in front of the inner eye but in the outer world the wood of the stretcher has cracked or the studio is out of glue or your rock falls off a truck, as happened to someone I know when it was too late to do anything except continue with the installation in spite of the crack -- the spirit saying, go on, go forward with my idea, while the body tries to cope with this rock or this stretcher bar -- and Ruskin discusses his inabilities more or less often, though not as often as John Cowper Powys in his autobiography, who will tell you that he is useless at this thing or that thing, or that he looked ridiculous in this situation or that situation, or that he is "a sadist" and "perverse," and crippled by his ulcers, he spits, he dribbles, he is constipated, and for years of his adult life he wants to eat nothing except bread and milk in a bowl, he is motherless, even though he had a mother, Mary Cowper Johnson, descendent of Cowper the poet, and what I mean when I say "motherless" is that he never mentions her and can anyone tell me why or do I need to hunt down Descents of Memory: The Life of John Cowper Powys by Morine Krissdottir to find out, because it is strange, in an autobiography, to tell us that your father had ten more children after yourself, the first, without mentioning the mother who gave birth to the eleven, never saying that she existed in any capacity or form, never using the words "my mother" in connection with yourself, and never explaining the omission, as if a country reverend could give birth to eleven children on his own, or pluck them off trees, or find them in the font, or do some other harmless, painless thing that produced or procured children somehow, which is ridiculous, and yet the assurance of John Powys in this matter never cracks; and there has never been a writer who more casually and naturally neglected to mention his mother.
"What object whatsoever he fixed on, were it the meanest of the mean, let him but paint it in its actual truth, as it swims there, in such environment; world-old, yet new and neverending; an indestructible portion of the miraculous All," wrote Carlyle in The Diamond Necklace (1837, a few years before the first volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters), asking for the dignity of Things ("looking fixedly at the Thing"), dignity given through the quality of attention being paid, and this attention I believe is evidence of love: a love of any Thing, the love more important than the worldly importance of the Thing ("were it the meanest of the mean") but we must have love. Give it and give it until the world drowns in it, then the rising water will pull the objects up in our estimation, is my reading. The Thing will swell. It will be a treasure. Love for everything and the whole life dedicated. What work. "I am nearly convinced," writes Ruskin in The Elements of Drawing,
that when we see keenly enough, there is very little difficulty in drawing what we see; but, even supposing that this difficulty be still great, I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, then teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw.
Powys the author does not look at any mother although Powys the boy must have looked at one. He gave nicknames to the inanimate objects around his house, seeing spirits in them. He had a set of respectful manners for his walking stick. "Our buried giant," Hill calls him. "Of the eyes that men do glare withal, so few can see." (Carlyle)