Sunday, July 27, 2014

miming the appearance of characters to whom something happens

When I remember that line from the Alexander Bathgate review in the Literary World, “if the author had been blessed with a spark of humour, the verses would have gone straight into the fire,” I realise that I don't know where the reviewer laughed.

Why should I know where the reviewer laughed; why should that be open to me – because it's a review, I say.

The contempt is clear but the details indeterminate. I can see the general sentiment but I can't agree or argue with the specific thought; and I suspect this lacuna is irritating me simply because it is a lacuna, and not because I sincerely want to know the details of the reviewer's contemplation, mild frottage of the brain, and why feel it in the first place I ask, when there is the problem of vanishing electrons that I could be studying instead: what a waste of a human mind, what a dilettante, when I could be more like the mathematician I met on Thursday, who was working his way through quantum physics to find an equation that would put his schizophrenic visions into logical perspective – set theory, he said, and a woman who was eavesdropping interrupted us, saying, Well we've all been to college.

From my perspective (as she came sideways into the corner of my vision) she was acting out what Jacques Ranciere calls “the intoxication of art,” which is, “mining the act of appearing, instead of miming the appearance of characters to whom something happens, or who feel something,” (Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art, translated by Zakir Paul) though from her perspective I can believe that she was coming at Ranciere from the opposite direction and that she was miming a character to whom something had happened, and who felt something.

"If they had been blessed with a spark of humour," she thought, " -- and by that I mean proportion -- this conversation would go straight into the fire."

In the rest of the review I see that Bathgate's reviewer is irritated by the footnotes (“they are a necessary evil, and should be reduced to the smallest compass”), that he is bored by the characters, and that he admires “excellent bits of landscape” in some of the poems. Iredale might be “singularly fatuous” but “a few lines” in the book “are both wise and true,” though he doesn't tell you what the lines are and here again is the lacuna (“Then kill it,” says Irma), for nothing in the other poems seems any smarter to me than Iredale, a long piece of blank verse which argues that we should reject sexual attraction in favour of platonic love between men and women because “higher love” can last forever, extending even into heaven, but “Passion lasts a fleeting day” -- the poet presenting his idea in a binary moral narrative about a man who stumbles into “passionate love” and has to be rescued posthumously from a supernatural giant named Lust, by the devotion of two pure women: “both are clear from stain.”

I snickered at an ungainly rhyme on page two, “Fair Alice Bain: Anon he knew the pain,” and that was as close as I came to an instinctive understanding of the reviewer's point about Bathgate's sense of humour.

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