Thursday, March 6, 2014

simmering gallipots

Avoidance is lush, distraction is fruitful, it is not a passive or evasive thing in Powys, nor when Countess Gertrude Groan in Peake thinks about the advice she will give her son Titus; she will tell him to sustain himself with an internal dream.

As I was writing "with an internal dream" I felt myself tracing over the words of millions of inspirational books, the ones that say, "Hold onto your dream," or "Follow your dream" or "Keep your dreams alive," which is what Gertrude will advise her son to do (though in the end she doesn't, she just has the idea of doing it), and yet it is not the same, because the inspirational quote books are imagining that the dream will lead you to a useful or externally fruitful and successful end point, the one known as Movie Star, or Athlete or Scholar or Small Business Owner, or some other net result at the culmination of a purpose.

Whereas Gertrude's dream and the daydreams in Powys are sustanence in themselves. This is especially true in Porius and Wolf Solent, whose protagonists are tempted to give up everything in their lives except their mental transports. It's a pity that "dream" and "daydream" are such sweet-sounding words because the state, in each book, is recalcitrant and suctioning.

The inspirational books' point of view is not strictly recent. Even in Dickens it is triumphant if your dreams sustain you until you are a District Magistrate in Port Middlebay and pitiful if they sustain you in an attic above an alcoholic combustible.

The inspirational dream pertains, I think, in places where a progress up through the ranks is seen to be possible or necessary or desirable and all persons are neighbours to an aspiration.

In Peake the nonprogression is part of the society and in Powys it is due to a social crippledness that the author confers upon the characters. He likes to make them obsessive, confused and truculent. (But he pulls against that tendency in them as well. Compare Prince Porius to his lordship Titus Groan. Porius doesn't abdicate.)

"Truculent," says Geoffrey Hill in one of his Keble lectures, quoting the critic Donald Carne-Ross on a Latin translation of John Dryden, "'the massive truculent English of John Dryden.' How my heart warms to that phrase." Truculence is not insolence, he says: "Truculence of course is not impudence or impertinence." Thinking back to his other lectures, I believe that "truculence" is one of the human characteristics that he hopes will help us to resist "our particular phase of oligarchical consumerism." The people in Gormenghast expect their fellow citizens to be truculent, and to hold their truculent personalities steady and unchanging.

Which behaviour Powys perceives as an explosive force:

We must, in fact, "in spite" of both old-fashioned and new-fashioned experts, embrace the ridiculous self-love and the physically funny ways of our elders and betters to such a point of humorous intensity that we end by stirring up what Heine calls "the Atistophanic spirit of world-destruction" and although we only do this from the simmering gallipots of our domestic suppressions, the thing swells and swells and swells until it spreads over all of the earth and all of the sky that we can catch from our parlour window, and the destructive enjoyment of Aristophanes coalesces with the creative enjoyment of Rabelais.

(In Spite Of: a Philosophy for Everyman)

So that a tight confinement, managed correctly, might bring you to a Nietzschean joy.

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