Thursday, September 18, 2014

part of who we are

The duty, which began as a game, to post every Wednesday and Saturday, is going to stop, I think; I've convinced myself that it's possible for me to do it, and now that I'm convinced, I'll end -- but I am not ending the blog, only the schedule -- remembering Proust as he criticises Sainte-Beuve, in By Way of Sainte-Beuve, (tr. Sylvia Townsend-Warner) for putting out a column every Monday:

During ten years, everything that he would have husbanded for his friends, for himself, for a long-projected book that doubtless he never would have written, had, week after week, to be licked into shape and sent out into the world. Those stores where we keep precious thoughts, the thought round which a novel should have crystallised, the thought he would have unfolded in a poem, another whose beauty had suffused a day for him, welled up from the depth of his mind as he read the book he was to write about, and heroically, to embellish the offering, he sacrificed his dearest Isaac, his last Iphigenia.

“Especially in matters of work we are all of us to a certain extent like Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch who devoted the whole of his life to labours which produced results that were merely trivial and absurd” (Jean Santeuil, tr (?) Gerard Hopkins); the same thought expressed by Yeats in pursuit of another thought: “The more I tried to make my art deliberately beautiful, the more did I follow the opposite of myself” (Discoveries).

Henri Bergson, “The route we pursue in time is strewn with the remains of all that we began to be, of all that we could have become” (Creative Evolution, tr. Arthur Mitchell), and it is only after I copy out those words that I remember that Bergson was one of Proust's lecturers at university, as well as his in-law, the husband of his cousin, Louise Neuberger, whose surname suggests Germanness; and it is from German that I find another perspective on those “remains.” Oh, says Jochen Poetter, your experiences are not discarding and littering, they are accumulation.

It is as with every powerful experience (caused by man or fate) that leaves on us its mark, becoming an integral part of who we are. Thus it is not surprising when the visitor only partially resurfaces from his vision of the cathedral and the pictures. Though he will quit the cathedral the following morning, a connection will remain. Perhaps he will drag this edifice around with him for the rest of his days, allowing it to attach itself to his carapace like the pyramidal projections on the back of an old spider crab; not a burden to this long-legged creature, living as he does meandering weightlessly about the ocean floor. Quite the contrary: the fixtures will be loved, they will lighten his loneliness and entertain him with ever-new stories. The polished eye stalks will watch with joy as green veils of algae settle into the empty shells, waving to and fro in the currents and stroking his prickly back.

(from The Tangential Point of a Diaphanous Presence in the book Richard Tuttle: Chaos, the/die Form tr. Mary Fran Gilbert)


  1. I only post to my blog when I want a blow-out on tripe and onions. For a while there I tried to take seriously my blogging about reading, tried to write structured essays about the books I've read, building arguments from the text, and that sort of thing, patterning my work--such as it is--on the work of better bloggers. I can't put that kind of effort into a blog, though, not if I want to keep writing all those unpublishable novels. "But a few people actually read the blog," I tell the unpublishable novels. The unpublishable novels are unconvinced, and make primary claims upon my time.

    I'm happy you aren't ending the blog, though. I can't tell you what value I get out of reading it, only that I do.

  2. The Schedule is a whole separate issue. I routinely question the Schedule, then do nothing, despite reasonable arguments and heartfelt doubts.

    The Schedule certainly interferes with, or destroys, the possibility of writing anything else.

    That crab is magnificent.

  3. To go from that dispiriting Bergson quotation to the marvelous one by Poetter - well, I may never quit a cathedral, museum, or even any experience ever again without thinking of that carapace.

  4. @ scott g.f.bailey. Writing books is a good reason not to be writing a blog. I've signed a contract to provide some people with things and I wonder sometimes if I wouldn't be closer to finishing the stock of things if I hadn't been writing these posts. (Fergus Henderson of Nose to Tail Eating in an interview, first of March, 2011: "You wake up and think…Ahhh, tripe and onions. One needs to test the perception of beauty. Tripe is a beautiful thing. It brings you back from the edge when you think there’s no hope… But then you remember there’s tripe and onions – it’s pretty impressive.”)

    @ seraillon & Tom: The best thing about the crab is that it comes at the end of an essay about an art exhibition that has nothing, totally nothing, to do with crabs. Most of the time Tuttle is making small nonrepresentational marks on pieces of paper and sticking them to the wall. "Art's capacity to evoke images is part of what makes it alive," says Poetter, and this is his explanation for eight pages of lyrical thoughts about hummingbirds, storms, dove-grey cliffs, an inferno, molten lava, a lake, a calyx, clouds of fog, red lamps, and "the black altarpiece in its monstrous denial." "The restless branches lead him to a tree-lined road in a flat countryside; it is a stormy day in late autumn. The gale lets the bare, windswept branches howl and the sturdy trunks groan. Revelling and exultant, he musters his strength against the wind, wanting to battle forces but at the same time feeling warmly embraced by the soft yet mighty thrusts."

  5. Good luck providing things for people. And congratulations on the contract.

    The "start here, end elsewhere" essays you write here have been quite fun--inspiring and useful--so thanks for having put off your contractual obligations for a while.

    Poetter's point about the weight (or rather weightlessness) of the cathedral on the crab's back is important. The soft yet mighty thrusts of the wind is a strange image, but I've never thought of weather in terms of a battlefield. Hm.

    1. Thanks. Technically I've made more than I need but I keep throwing them away. "Not that. Do another one."

      The weightlessness looks to me like the one thing that makes the crab really essential to the vision of blithe happiness that he wants to get across. If you pile that edifice on a land animal then the value of the accumulation is going to become ambiguous. You have your "mark," but is the price worth it? Bring in the buoyant water and you can brush that question away. "Of course it's worth it. The edifice weighs nothing. There is no price." Which begs the question: is that really an honest representation of human experience or is the crab a gorgeous white lie?

    2. If only it were that simple! I will carry (I hope) a certain moment of time experienced at St Stephen's in Vienna, with me for the rest of my life. Similarly, I hope to carry with me St Vitus and the Tyn Church in Prague, on my back even. They are essentially weightless, or if they are not, the weight they add to my life makes my steps more firm in a good way.

      My original answer to this was going to be something like, "it's a gorgeous lie, but what's wrong with that?" Maybe one can find a meaningful allegory for being under water versus on land.

    3. Proust was the one who really complicated the idea that any moment can be understood (or assigned a weight or value) by the one who experiences it, the narrator having those moments that grow up suddenly in some new shape years later. But you come in out of the rain and say, "I'm wet," with total confidence and does that moment change? How do you characterise a moment: what evidence do you use when you give it a character? (Could you have a story in which every character was a moment?)