Thursday, May 8, 2014

sharp, much like a blade

Two weeks or so ago a footy player got whacked in the face during a game and my thoughts about Margaret Cavendish's dove have met up with the image of his streaming head, blood down the left cheek in the form (I thought, when I saw it) of an ankh, though it might just have been the tail of the stream running over the cheekbone, yet I thought of an ankh, and then, when I read about the dove, I considered the round-eyed dove and the footy player's blood-ankh together in the same impression, not superimposed, just existing, the way that books themselves can coexist in the space that is not a space, either before or after they have been read, so that Clarissa, which I am finishing at the moment, existed before I had read it, in the form of a large square brick with a specific painting on the front, which means that I must have seen a copy of it at some point with that picture.

And while it has been read it has been existing in an increasing number of forms, and finally it will exist in many forms which it did not have before.

Things mate themselves with other things promiscuously and what a horror it is that this is achieved; what strange biological functions we undergo, and why not, then, Margaret Cavendish, conceiving the skinned eye of a dove in tandem with the representative qualities of the dove, daintiness, prettiness, naturalness -- also with a history of poetic metaphor that, by the agreement of all readers, excludes certain qualities of objects being invoked (lips like roses without the thrips, bosoms like snow but still warm) -- and not with the actual mutilation of vulnerable eyeballs. Though vulnerable eyeballs was the way it presented itself to me, even though I could see what she was getting at (daintiness, etc); and still I was not swayed and there is the ankh.

Aptness from her point of view and grotesquerie from mine, even unreasonable concern, as though real heads had been violated somewhere; I developed a strange desire for vegetarian poems that do not put words like “pleasure” and “delight” next to the no doubt brutal deaths of adders, doves, and butterflies, the enslavement of glow-worms and crickets, and the torment of innocent lizards when Queen Mab shoots them in the haunch.

Her bow is of a willow branch,
To shoot the lizard on the haunch:
Her arrow sharp, much like a blade,
Of a rosemary leaf is made.

(you can find the whole poem here, though this version is not the same as the one Woolf read before she wrote her essay. Somebody has been doing some editing somewhere, or else Cavendish wrote two of them.)

But the mutability of little living objects is a scientific idea for her as well as a fantastic one. What is the animal's composition? What is its source?

… Insects whose production proceeds from such causes as have no conformity or likeness with their produced Effects; as for example, Maggots bred out of Cheese, and several others generated out of Earth, Water, and the like. But said the Empress, there is some likeness between Maggots and Cheese; for Cheese has no blood, nor Maggots neither; besides, they have almost the same taste which Cheese has. This proves nothing, answered they; for Maggots have a visible, local, progressive motion, which Cheese hath not. The Empress replied, That when all the Cheese was turned into Maggots, it might be said to have local, progressive motion. They answered, That when the Cheese by its own figurative motions was changed into Maggots, it was no more Cheese. The Empress confessed that she observed Nature was infinitely various in her works.

(The Blazing World)


  1. Thanks for this post; it's an excellent answer to the question I asked about the dove's eye, whether you meant to directly answer that question or not. I think you are right, though: Cavendish came upon her image, the combination of sweetly soft downy doveskin and the implied peeling of an eye, in much the same way that you saw an ankh in the football player's blood, symbol of life pouring out of a living body. Simultaneous multiple impressions, the birth of a new metaphor, etc. I'm not saying this well at all. Or I'm just poorly paraphrasing your post, which is apparently what I do on the internet. Anyway, this is good stuff. All weekend I've been thinking of metaphors as injuries to the world caused by violent collisions. It led to some funny ideas when I was reading St Augustine's long essay on the nature of time.

    1. All metaphors surrealism then: "injuries to the world caused by violent collisions." Extra sensitivity to the sensation of clashing: you don't even need a sewing machine on an ironing board or a razor blade in an eye; just lips like roses will do it. All you need to do is get so far into the formula of your poem that the equations start writing themselves.