Thursday, March 20, 2014

and a counter-tendency of resistance

Why does Powys refer to free will as an illusion ("by the true illusions of life, above all by the ultimate illusion of free will"), why do I look at the paragraph and think that it can't reach the place it wants to go, and not only because Powys is unwilling to push his ideas to their conclusion but because he in fact cannot push that far, and can't, in other words, declare that pure untethered spontaneity is desireable or possible?

Wondering like that, I go back to Death of the Posthuman and Claire Colebrook arguing that "a living being is never 'pure life,' for a living being closes itself off, to some extent, from the world's energies; a being is in part its open engagement with the world, but also a certain refusal of the dynamic life of the world, a selfsameness that remains unto itself and limits relations and stimuli." Life is characterised by a "certain intertia."

Life can be considered a double tendency, an explosive power of creative difference, and a counter-tendency of resistance.

(Anthony of the Time's Flow Stemmed blog linked to Colebrook's book on Twitter.)

Meanwhile pre-life (theoretically imagined, as it it has to be) was a time (or a not-time) of supreme undifferentiation, it was nothing graspable whatsoever and might as well not have existed (and may not have existed anyway, since this entirely fictional description is like a mermaid deduced from a manatee), and this (declaration!) is why Powys can't write it.

Isn't it wonderful, I marvel, the way my points of view come to meet me when I go looking for them. For I am going to suppose for a moment that this (the above) is an explanation of the feeling my gut was giving me, which is that the state of absolute freedom would be, from a human point of view, nothing at all, or anyway not human, and that if Powys started advocating a non-illusionary freedom then he would have to throw all of his characters away and write, somehow, a nonhuman book, which is not within the scope of his longings. He wants to write people, he centres everything on people, his "queerest side-way impressions" go through a human consciousness, the problems are human problems; the insects themselves have human perceptions.

The violent movement of the stickleback disturbed a water-beetle from its afternoon sleep by shaking off a little group of vegetation-parasites which still clung to its primrose stalk. These unarmed miniscules of the land now drifted, clinging to each other in shivering apprehension, into the watery gulf of unknown regions, regions which to their simple minds must have been full of all the hungry monarchs and all the torture-loving archbishops of the aquatic world.

(Owen Glendower)

Objects at a house in Weymouth Sands do not remain in their un-named states -- their owner gives them names -- these are garden spades and so on -- meanwhile the character-owner Powys locates his people in specific places, he involves the unhuman earth and treeline with the bodies of humans, acknowledging Thomas Hardy as his teacher, dedicating his first book to Hardy, writing admirations of Hardy and even meeting Hardy in the flesh one day.

Whoever tries to visualize any scene out of the Wessex Novels will be forced to see the figures of the persons concerned "silhouetted" against a formidable skyline. One sees them, these poor impassioned ones, moving in tragic procession along the edge of the world, and, when the procession is over, darkness re-establishes itself. The quality that makes Mr. Hardy's manner such a refuge from the levities and gravities of the "reforming writers" is a quality that springs from the soil. The soil has a gift of "proportion" like nothing else. Things fall into due perspective on Egdon Heath, and among the water-meadows of Blackmoor life is felt as the tribes of men have felt it since the beginning.

(Visions and Revisions)


  1. At lunch today I was at my favorite local used book shop. They had at least six different editions of Weymouth Sands. I bought the one that looks unread. They also had an old copy of In Spite Of, which looks interesting but that particular copy was falling apart, so I gave it a miss. I did however pick up Ruskin's autobiography, "written between bouts of dementia in his old age," as the jacket flap copy says. I forgot to look for Treece. None of this comment is about your post.

    1. You're reminding me that I live in a city with almost no secondhand bookshops at all, unless you count Goodwill as a bookshop.

      It's interesting, remembering the state of mind Ruskin is supposed to have been in when he wrote that autobiography, how calm it is, and how much he is sad rather than angry. (He was doing his best to appear sane, someone said. It was deliberate.)

      I was reading Ethics of the Dust at least a year after Praeterita and I had a wonderful instant of lightness when I reached this line about fireflies, because he reembers the same fireflies at the end of Prae, and it is extremely similar, though one version stresses the "stormy sirocco wind" and the other one stresses a voluptuous "calm."

      "One evening, as I came late into Siena, the fire-flies were flying high on a stormy sirocco wind, - the stars themselves no brighter, and all their host seeming, at moments, to fade as the insects faded." (Ethics)

      " We drank of it together, and walked together that evening on the hills above, where the fireflies among the scented thickets shone fitfully in the still undarkened air. How they shone ! moving like fine-broken starlight through the purple leaves. How they shone ! through the sunset that faded into thunderous night as I entered Siena three days before, the white edges of the mountainous clouds still lighted from the west, and the openly golden sky calm behind the Gate of Siena's heart, with its still golden words, " Cor magis tibi Sena pandit," and the fireflies everywhere in sky and cloud rising and falling, mixed with the lightning, and more intense than the stars." (Prae)