Thursday, March 13, 2014

the power to act or not to act

The male relative dies. Porius imagines his moth. Insects appeared earlier as well, after the death of a mare. "Drudwyn was licking the cold nose of the dead mare, about whose nostrils and eye-sockets crawled several black ants, while a tiny brown insect whose identity, had Porius tried to verify a matter of such sub-human interest in that dim light, would have struck him as belonging rather to the race of beetles than to that of flies, kept approaching the slippery surface crossed by the dog's devoted tongue and then again precipitately retreating."

The evasiveness of that phrasing hits me, now that I've been associating him with words like "avoidance" and "distraction," the insect described as an inconclusive and infinite beetleishness, and Porius thinking about this beetle-thing but not thinking about it: "had Porius tried to verify ..."

That seems to be Powys' way of confronting the confinement that language sets up around whatever it describes. He will use a phrase like "it was," "it is," "he knew for sure," but then he will rebel against it. It is as if he's saying, "I used you once, but you can't make me use you again. Here is a situation in which I could use you, but I won't."

And if it in fact is his way of confronting that confinement then that method is in sympathy with his celebrations (overtly in The Inmates, thus) of "all those creatures of the earth [...] who, unaffected by the attractions of logical scientific reasoning, lived by the true illusions of life, above all by the ultimate illusion of free will," a state of affairs intuited by the protagonist John Hush who is crawling through the bushes on all fours. "And like an animal he raised one knee and then one hand, thinking, "I will crawl there," or, "I will crawl there," and then thinking, "I will crawl a little in that direction, and then I will turn round, not urged by any motive at all, or by any urge at all, or by any desire at all, but simply and solely to prove to myself, for my own interest alone, and at a moment decided upon quite arbitrarily and capriciously by myself, that I possess, along with every other planetary identity, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, together with all the atoms that compose us, the power to act or not to act, and the power to defy, unexpectedly, capriciously and wantonly, for the pure pleasure of proving to myself that I am free, every sort of cause and pressure exerted by every sort of material sequence as well as every sequence of thought or feeling or action!"

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