Sunday, March 16, 2014

it was only himself

Free will (or "the ultimate illusion of free will") in Powys proves itself to itself by defying some other power "unexpectedly, capriciously and wantonly." If it is defiant then it must be self-conscious. It has its own strict standards. What if it defies that power slowly and thoughtfully? Then is its free action tainted by "any motive at all, or by any urge at all"? Can not thinking about your motive genuinely remove an action from any influential context, as the character John Hush believes? He is blurring ideas about spontaneity into ideas about freedom. One image of freeness is moving on top of another. Freedom needs to be freed from the brain itself. I think that's where this passage is trying to go. It can't get there, but it's heading in that direction. The word "free" has infested the paragraph. Everything has to be free, even freedom. Peake makes Titus capricious too, especially at the end of Gormenghast when he has decided to kill Steerpike. Steerpike is responsible for his dead sister, but Titus decides that he is going to fight him because he loves his missing canoe. As though Peake thinks that the less reasonable and expected motivation will make the action seem more lifelike, strange, respectable, and true. Earlier Modernists having already argued that people do not have direct thoughts from A to B, Peake cuts the Gordian knot of psychological representation by making his character go through C instead. I believe he is refusing to acquiesce to a demand that he can sense hanging behind him as he writes. But confused. The tempo of the book changes here.

And the people in Powys, at crucial moments, are noticing those bubbles or those piles of dung or, in that same scene from The Inmates, they are being invaded by ideas that seem to come from nowhere. "[T]wo rather unusual words came into John's head which he tried in vain to connect either with what he was watching of the person and the proceedings of Morsimmon Esty, or with himself as he peered out from under those sweet-scented spruce-branches." Rhisiart in Owen Glendower watches a man draw a sword in front of him and "the queerest side-way impression rushed through Rhisiart's consciousness."

Then there will be a massive sprouting-outwards from the irrelevant observation of dung or bubbles, or the two words will stay in the mind of Hush for more than a page, or the sword in Owen Glendower will turn into a paragraph. "Its ancient cross-handle in some fantastic way conveyed to the lad's mind the notion that it was a kind sword!" Things are no longer irrelevant if they have this weight. Powys elevates and enlarges his defiance. He is a de-irrevelantor. The defiance becomes its own excuse. Rhisiart often believes that he is being invaded or "swamped," particularly by women. "Call it his wickedness, call it what you like, he felt he must keep the central core of his identity from being drugged, swamped, dissolved, in this Tower-room piety." In another chapter, when a stronger man is crushing him unconscious, he spontaneously decides that he is not going to call for help. "You can't make me call for help!"

The crushing man doesn't care whether Rhisiart calls for help or not. He's not deliberately trying to kill him or even bully him, or extract information, he's only crushing him for fun because they've been drinking and people are getting rambunctious: "he had simply given way to a whole-hearted joy in the power of his hairy arms." (He is behaving "unexpectedly, capriciously and wantonly.") But Rhisiart reacts as if someone or something is telling him to shout for help. There is that power of expectation letting him know that it wants him to do something and he won't do it. Refusing to save himself, he is transported. "Rhisiart began to find something in the pain itself that gave him a strange exultation." He is doing it for Owen Glendower, he thinks: somehow Owen Glendower will know that he didn't cry out. "'It's for Owen,' he thought." Then he feels himself wrestling his own corpse.

And he kept crying out to it, 'I know your name!' though how it could have a name when it was only himself remained one of those problems that often confront a mind under some cracking tension.

Powys doesn't know the answer to that question any more than his character does. He cuts off the transport there and uses another man to knock Rhisiart loose. In his Autobiography he reads Proust -- Proust could have shown him how to get past the high montaintop of drama in these situations, and analyse, but the lesson didn't get passed on.

In Peake it is a plot manoeuvre. The plot excuses it.

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