Thursday, December 31, 2015

forth with lies

Sonnet 1

If ever there is anyone who reads
These my neglected poems, don't believe
In their feigned ardors; love imagined in
Their scenes I've handled with emotions false

The Muses' inspirations high I have
Set forth with lies – no less with weasel words –
When my false sorrows sometimes I bewail
Or sometimes sing my spurious delights;

And, as in theatres, in varied style,
I now have played a woman, now a man,
As nature would instruct, and art as well.

The Selected Poems of Isabella Andreini, 2005, ed. Anne MacNeil, tr. James Wyatt Cook. Andreini (1562 – 1604) was a member of the commedia dell'arte troupe I Gelosi (1569 - 1604) so she isn't writing metaphorically when she says she's played "in theatres."

It is always tempting to arrest a form. Form is discourse's temptation. It is in taking form that discourse is developed and then becomes fixed and acknowledged.

Against Architecture: the Writings of Georges Bataille, 1992, by Denis Hollier, tr. Betsy Wing

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

it was as if it came up against another substance

What arrives here, at no matter what moment, coming from fathomless spaces, and lodges itself, encrusts itself here, enlarges and pushes back even farther these infinitely extensible limits … no one can ever know how far they extend … what should have become an integral part of him, a solid, indestructible part what surrounds him too, which seemed capable of enlargement, of extending its limits farther and farther, wasn't able to penetrate there … it was as if it came up against another substance … a strange unknown substance, impenetrable by things that seem to be able to circulate freely everywhere else.

Here, 1995, by Nathalie Sarraute, tr. Barbara Wright

Such storms, called cloud-bursts by the country-folk, are not rain, rather the spillings of Thor's cup, jarred by the Thunderer. After such a one the water that comes up in the village hydrants miles away is white with forced bubbles from the wind-tormented streams.

The Land of Little Rain, 1903, by Mary Austin

a work of adjustment, not of exaggeration

Somehow I wish that man sculpted kennels, or shells, of one sort or another, things on his own scale, that he created objects differing greatly from from his own mollusk shape but proportional to it (I find African huts fairly satisfactory in this respect) instead of those enormous monuments that merely illustrate the grotesque discrepancy between his imagination and his body (or else his ignominious social and sexual mores), instead of those life-size or larger than life-size statues (I'm thinking of Michelangelo's David) that merely portray the body. I wish man would try to create, for himself and future generations, dwellings not much larger than his body, which would comprise all his imaginings and reasonings, that he would devote his genius to a work of adjustment, not of exaggeration – at the very least that genius would recognize the limits of the body that bears it.

Notes Toward a Shellfish, 1942, from Francis Ponge: Selected Poems, 2012, tr. C.K. Williams, ed. Margaret Guiton

When we were having a book printed in France we complained about the bad alignment. Ah they explained that is because they use machines now, machines are bound to be inaccurate, they have not the intelligence of human beings, naturally the human mind corrects the faults of the hand but with a machine of course there are errors.

Paris France, 1940, by Gertrude Stein

Monday, December 28, 2015

abetted by the stage lighting

Now for the wonder of wonders, – when Mrs. Thrale, in a coaxing voice, suited to a Nurse soothing a Baby, had run on for some Time, – while all the rest of us, in Laughter, joined in the request, – two Crystal Tears came into the soft Eyes of the S. S., – and rolled gently down her Cheeks! – such a sight I never saw before, nor could I have believed; – she offered not to conceal or dissipate them, – on the contrary, she really contrived to have them seen by every body. She looked, indeed, uncommonly handsome, for her pretty Face was not, like Chloes, blubbered; it was smooth and elegant, and neither her Features nor complexion were at all ruffled; – nay, indeed, she was smiling all the Time.

"Look, look!" cried Mrs. Thrale; "see if the Tears are not come already!"

Journals and Letters, 2001, by Frances Burney, ed. Lars E. Troide: from a letter to her sister Susanna, dated 12 October 1779. 'S.S.' is Sophia Streatfeild, "a noted beauty," according to Troide's footnote, "called 'the Fair Grecian,' because of her knowledge of Greek. Able to cry at will." 'Chloe' is a reference to Matthew Prior's (1664–1721) poem A Better Answer, which starts with, "Dear Chloe, how blubbered is that pretty face!"

Official Communist critics, however, immediately branded Chekhov's interpretation as decadent and reactionary. Evidently, they could not endure the "suffering and deathly horror in his eyes" as he moved "with nervous, wavering steps to meet his doom." Although he emphasized his duty of revenge, "he appeared so crushed with grief and despair for himself and mankind that his consciousness seemed to disintegrate." After an outburst of activity in the last scene, culminating in the killing of Claudius, Hamlet accepted his own death peacefully, with a lucid mind, "as if laying carefully his body by." "The more impotent Hamlet's body became, the brighter and more all-consuming became his inner life, which was abetted by the stage lighting."

Shakespeare and Eastern Europe, 2000, by Zdeněk Stříbrný. 'Chekhov' is the actor Michael Chekhov (1891 - 1955).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

miniature brooks | in parallel currents

So that, after size and weight, the Power of architecture may be said to depend on the quantity (whether measured in space or intenseness) of its shadow; and it seems to me, that the reality of its works, and the use and influence they have in the daily life of men (as opposed to those works of art with which we have nothing to do but in times of rest or of pleasure) require of it that it should express a kind of human sympathy, by a measure of darkness as great as there is in human life: and that as the great poem and great fiction generally affect us most by the majesty of their masses of shade, and cannot take hold upon us if they affect a continuance of lyric sprightliness, but must be serious often, and sometimes melancholy, else they do not express the truth of this wild world of ours; so there must be, in this magnificently human art of architecture, some equivalent expression for the trouble and wrath of life, for its sorrow and its mystery: and this it can only give by depth or diffusion of gloom, by the frown upon its front, and the shadow of its recess.

Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849, by John Ruskin


is not a mixture of tones,
the proposition is articulate;
it isn't a bridge aloft from
river but miniature brooks
in parallel currents – we
see here between solid
facts the mind of fragile
beings, sensibility unfurled
to crystal sound – this
perhaps is where we learn
fine architecture from a
rock, momentarily sensing
what's impermeable as
porous – for facts are the
world's deposits, beyond
them we seek anonymous
liberty, sparing in the air.

sophos symposium from trespasses, 2006, by Padcha Tuntha-obas

[edit: changed "brings" to "beings"]

Saturday, December 26, 2015

to myself, happy

I often keep to myself, happy, yet anxious, knowing that I find contentment in things too easily.

Laure: the Collected Writings, 1995, from a letter to her sister-in-law Suzanne Peignot, tr. Jeanine Herman

I like my slip-shod style, I deliberately use it

Petrushka and the dancer: the diaries of John Cowper Powys, 1929-1939, 1995, ed. Morine Krissdóttir

Friday, December 25, 2015

the animal subjects

Damien Hirst’s Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991, appealed to nationalistic taste with the same reassuringly Victorian ponderousness it treasured in the animal subjects of Edwin Landseer.

Marx to Sharks: Thomas Crow on the Art-historical ‘80s, by Thomas Crow, Artforum, April 2003.

He forgot his own personality by immersing it in that of others – which is perhaps the only way to avoid suffering from it.

Sentimental Education, 1869, by Gustave Flaubert, tr. Robert Baldrick

Thursday, December 24, 2015

wind that flew above the sea

While the tow-boat, in which Christophe now embarked floated, impelled by a light east wind, down the river Loire the famous cardinal de Lorraine, and his brother the second Duc de Guise, one of the greatest warriors of those days, were contemplating, like eagles perched on a rocky summit, their present situation, and looking prudently about them before striking the great blow by which they intended to kill the Reform in France at Amboise – an attempt recorded twelve years later in Paris, August 24, 1572, on the feast of Saint-Bartholemew.

Catherine de' Medici: the Calvinist Martyr, 1828, by Honoré de Balzac, tr. Katharine Prescott Wormeley

Yes, that was what he was looking at, the wind. The wind that had escaped to the sea, an entire shore of wind that flew above the sea.

Yann Andréa Steiner, 1992, by Marguerite Duras, tr. Barbara Bray

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

intensely she had gazed at it from the deck

The Doson Peninsula, with its white lighthouse on the top of a cliff and the green woods on the island made her recall, as in a dream, how intensely she had gazed at it from the deck of the boat, thinking she would never see the sight again in her life. But now, while she sat alone forlornly, all the views that had once enchanted her so much appeared to have almost faded away, dim and colorless, almost forgotten, merely to bore her.

Floating Clouds, 1965, by Hayashi Fumiko, tr. Y. Koitabashi and M.C. Collcutt

(life is grotesque when we catch
it in quick perceptions –
at full vent – history
shaping itself)

Notes on a visit to the Le Tuc d’Audoubert, 1982, Clayton Eshleman, in Postmodern American Poetry, 1994, ed. Paul Hoover

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

my development involving the beetles

But for every person who has fallen asleep on his estate, another is willing to renovate it and bring it back into shape. As his own property, mind you, but what does that mean, except for that age-old and ever-present truth: that nature has made a pact with the mighty of this earth?

The Girl, from The Country Road, 1921, by Regina Ullman, tr. Kurt Beals

The shimmering ceiling at the Royal Palace is the apotheosis of my development involving the beetles. That is why I am currently conducting research on the body, that strange laboratory we wake up with every morning.

Jan Fabre, interviewed by Michael Amy in Conversations on Sculpture, 2007, ed Glenn Harper and Twylene Moyer

Monday, December 21, 2015

scattered with the relics of the sculptor’s trade

I ended last year with sets of quotes from books that I had read over the preceding twelve months -- so --

If the history of sculpture is liberally scattered with the relics of the sculptor’s trade – small maquettes, esquisses, models, small sculptures, sculptures to be held in the hand and so on – there is a subtly different kind of object that comes into view in the mid-twentieth century. It is through the medium of photography that the cult of enchantment with the debris of the studio reaches a climax in the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps most vividly staged in photographs of Alberto Giacometti’s famous Montmartre studio in Paris.

Eva Hesse: Studiowork, 2009, by Briony Ger

the Red breast frequently builds on the ground under the shelter of a knoll or stulp and its nest is often taken for that of the nightingales but it is easily distinguished from it as the robins is built with dead grass and moss on the out side while the Nightingale never forgets her dead oak leaves and this is so peculiar to her taste that I never saw a nest of theirs without them nor are they used by any other bird for their nests –

The Selected Poetry and Prose of John Clare, 1987, ed. Merryn and Raymond Williams

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

to disappear beneath slow sea-water

Put the point at the end of the sentence, said Dorothy Richardson. It is one of the writing precepts that she gives to Miriam in Pilgrimage, and she offered it genuinely, not fictionally, to someone in a letter, following her own advice more and more as the books go on, or so I think now as I'm rereading them, and up to volume twelve, Dimple Hill, the sentences becoming more Proustian in this structural sense, the winding roam that ends with a cap that expands into suggestiveness because it is exact and surprising: "Returned from their first glance at the scene as it showed from the house which before had been part of it and now, itself only a window, left it empty, a vast expanse ending in a wedge-shaped ridge low against the low sky, her eyes sped once more across the flats, now beginning to disappear beneath slow sea-water, and reached the misty ridge and found trees there, looking across at her from their far distance so intently that she was moved to set down the little old spoon raised to crack the shell of the egg whose surface, in the unimpeded light, wore so soft a bloom." Not the same observations as Proust, or for the same reason, but still the sentence-weight placed on the "soft bloom," on a little thing, the capper is aimed at tininess and faintness, a passing object: a flower, in him, a slick of sperm, or a yellow spot that no one else can find, though it revived him when he was dying, said Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, who allowed the other man to lean upon his arm at the Jeu de Palme where Vermeer's View of Delft, 1660-61, was on display in an exhibition "the profits of which were to go to areas of Flanders that had been laid waste by the war." Marcel Proust: a Life, Jean-Yves Tadié, tr. Euan Cameron, 2000. "Several times he came back to sit down on that 'circular settee' which Bergotte rolls off to die," said Vaudoyer. "But," writes Tadié, Proust "did not die in front of the View of Delft." It is strange that this sentence is there in the biography when everybody knows that Proust did not die in front of the View of Delft. Logically we know it, because Bergotte would not have been able to roll away in the same place if his creator had done so first. It is odd to imagine myself as someone who was desiring, sighing, longing to be informed very clearly that Proust did not suffer a fatal attack in the Jeu de Palme before he had written the word "end" in his manuscript, which, according to Céleste Albaret, was an event that occurred in the following year. And what does she mean, asks Tadié, when there are at least four versions of the final paragraph, none of which can be singled out as the one that ended with Fin? "[I]n which version was the word Fin placed at the end? Certainly before the fourth but after the third. It was when Proust had succeeded in inserting the image of giants, which may have taken the place of the 'êtres monstrueux,' that he stopped; it was both because he had achieved a rhythmical fullness, and also because of the effect, not dissimilar to silence in musical tempo, of the single dash (not a pair, as in the Clarac-Ferré edition) which precedes 'dans le temps.'"

If Tadié wants to tell me that Proust did not die in front of a Vermeer then he has an idea of me that does not fit my actual existence, or perhaps that information resolved an imbalanced feeling there in the paragraph for him and he assumed that I, too, would have been arrested by that imbalance and clumsiness, desiring, in its place, a "musical fullness," and so, to get us both through the experience safely, he installed that phrase even though we are on page seven hundred and forty-four in a book where the section titled 'Death' does not come until page seven hundred and seventy-five. Between the two pages Proust nearly has a bucket and a chicken thrown at his head and he goes to the Ritz for dinner more than once.

Why, in that sentence, did I take the word "ice" away from the front of "bucket" and "hot" from the front of "chicken," which would have given them a clearer placement in the Ritz dining room? There must have been a reason. Now, as it is, the bucket might be a manure bucket and the chicken might be alive. The dying Proust is visiting a farm (how, with his asthma?); he is standing on the floor of a barn while a farm person, not looking where he is aiming, is cleaning buckets and chickens off the rafters. Probably there was straw as well but Tadié has not mentioned it. The owner of the farm sees the near miss and loses his temper at the farm person but Proust is charming, as he always was, a quality that Miriam analyses whenever she comes across it in another character during Pilgrimage. What does it mean, to say charming things? she considers. Why is it different in a man and in a woman? Chrisman never praises Ruskin for his charmingness* and nor was Laure charming. She was "pure, dissolute, dark, luminous." "I drank, I bathed in her radiant purity," wrote Jean Bernier, tr Jeanine Herman. L'amour de Laure, 1978. Do I ever know what to do with words? The difference between a live chicken and a cooked one lies between the words "warm" and "hot."

*"The ability to coo as gently as a dove was not a notable characteristic of Ruskin."

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

girls with names like stars were absorbed by the powerful current of magnetic doors

The separation of the two Joan Londons is my own invention but the separation between the words "wine flag" and a meaning in the Cantos is, I believe, the deliberate invention of Pound. The first one seems trivial to the rest of the world, but the second one has been mentioned at some other time in a work of scholarship -- maybe -- I can imagine it -- but not the Joans, and this reminds me obliquely of Colette Laure Lucienne Peignot, 1903 - 1938, who burnt almost everything she wrote because, according to her boyfriend Georges Bataille, "she had the greatest conceivable concern not to confide what seemed heartrending to her to those who cannot be moved," a diagnosis that seems to be confirmed by her own surviving prose, which was published in 1977 under the title Encrits de Laure and translated, twenty years later, into English, by Jeanine Herman. In the 'Correspondence' section of the book she tells her sister-in-law that she wants to communicate distress to her without mutilating it. It is a matter of self-respect, in her, not to reconcile herself to the fact that a writer is a person who commands a nugget of calm. The form of distress is incoherence or things-apart. Grammar will compel it together. I read her Story of a Little Girl and see coherence. "I know it well; it is not a city but an octopus. All parallel and diagonal streets converge toward a liquid, swollen center. Each tentacle of the beast has a single line of houses with two facades, one with small windowpanes, the other with heavy curtains. It is there that, from the mouth of Vérax, I heard the good news of Notre-Dame-de-Cléry, there that I saw Violette's beautiful eyes injected with the blackest ink, there finally that Justus and Bételgeuse, Vérax and La Chevelure and all the girls with names like stars were absorbed by the powerful current of magnetic doors." Liking her a lot, I think, "Maybe she is sabotaged by her own medium." In the library I open a book of essays by an American named Lewis Herbert Chrisman, 1893 - 1965, who is praising Ruskin by crushing him into a shape. "For over twenty years he was preeminently a critic of art. But he was no dilettante defender of that pictorial putrescence which is sometimes foisted upon a gullible public by depraved purveyors of vileness which they miscall art. Ruskin was the unfailing champion of the things which are honest and …" When this writer hands himself the satisfaction of two alliterations you know he is happy to realise that the words "critic of art," if he left them alone, would not tell the public what he wanted to say. If he could have put his point into the words "critic of art," without the addendum, would he have been even happier? John Ruskin, Preacher, and Other Essays, 1921.

Monday, November 30, 2015

chimneys smoke in the cross light

When I heard that an author I hadn’t read had won the Patrick White Award then I went to the Guardian website where there was an excerpt from her recent book, The Golden Age, 2014, but the excerpt was so boring that I couldn’t reconcile it with the idea of this author, whose name is Joan London, winning a prize named after Patrick White, who believed, 1) that the independence of a serious human person would be understood as a kind of offensive violence, and 2) that this offensiveness should exist in fictional expression as well as in fictional character: putting White on a wavelength with Rabelais.

If I want to believe that the London who should win the Patrick White Award exists then I have to trust the reviewers and critics who say that she is exceptional and unfairly neglected, that she deserves all of the awards that she has won (this is Kerryn Goldworthy in the Australian Book Review) and that she should win more of them (this is Elizabeth Webby in The Conversation).

I need to believe two things, 1) that in its place, in the book, the excerpt is evidence that London is a singular writer, and 2) in isolation it misrepresents her. I have read her and not read her, and she vanishes in the excerpt; the excerpt has concealed the writer instead of revealing her, and she is eerily going and present and incomplete without the absence being structured, polite, poetic, or tempting. There are lines in Pound’s Cantos about the action of recession.

Sail passed here in April; may return in October
Boat fades in silver; slowly;
Sun blaze alone on the river

Where wine flag catches the sunset
Sparse chimneys smoke in the cross light (Canto XLIX)

He describes things disappearing but he has made something that is there and so you must describe disappearance in order to have the present thing that is not absence but something like a calm memorial in its favour, not it, itself, as war memorials are not like death. You can dwell on a war memorial but not on death as it is happening, you can’t stand there dwelling as the muddy soldier is straining to tolerate a bullet, but you can look at a stone. The fading boat was invented so that it could stand like a still part in Pound's machinery while the sad vivacity of things in transition appealed to him … (at that moment in my draft I wrote, “but the form of disappearingness itself was not tempting, the poem does not vanish”, then I rethought it and I am wrong because the strange words “wine flag” have established an unbridged gap between the English language that they were written in and the Chinese scenery that he hints at in another way three lines afterwards: “a world is covered with jade.” London is withdrawn from me when I read the excerpt, yet at no moment is she curtailed completely below the shape of a suggestion, which is also the shape of things within the Cantos, these existences that the poet gives to you before questioning them, first “Comes the snow scur on the river,” but three lines later, “The flowing water clots as with cold.” My italics).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

in the vaults they were secure so long as the report prevailed of their being haunted

Now I want to touch on the sensation of melting-away that comes to me when I think of Droste-Hülshoff 's book with its production of murders and then the promise of murderers, and then the absence of the murderers who should be there. The murderers are not revealed until the local Jews cut a curse into a beech tree, whereat two people confess, in different ways and at different times, to the same murder. The two confessors are both equally sincere. I mean that the author treats them equally sincerely. But they cancel one another out. What does she want me to think? She does not sound like a mind that is planning a trick; she is not ambiguous; she is not Coleridge.

Giving does not seem to be her intention but withholding is not her intention either.

After a suspicious axe has been discovered she gives us a hint that her interest lies in the equilibrium of information: "It would be wrong to disappoint the curiosity of the reader in a fictitious story, but this is how it actually came to be; I can't add or subtract anything from it" (tr. Jolyon Timothy Hughes).

Heidegger, discussing some lines in Hölderlin's poem The Ister, decides that the river, a noun characterised by flowing, is the location of its own absence from its location. As he pursues that thought he is led to the character of Antigone, whose obduracy he describes with a word that the translators McNeill and Davis give as "unhomely," meaning more or less that she is un-hearthed, or intrinsically unhomed or uncanny. (Hölderlin's Hymn, 'The Ister' (1984), tr. William McNeill and Julia Davis.) All human beings are unhomely, says Heidegger; they are not at home in the world. "As a human being, she not only belongs to the most uncanny that looms and stirs among beings; rather, within the most uncanny, Antigone is the supreme uncanny." By going further into extremity she inhabits the human state more fully than any other character. So she advances to her death. On the other hand Mudpuddle down there in the comments is bringing up The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book in which the magical ghosts turn out to be bankers.

"But why," said Emily, "were not these pirates contented with the cave -- why did they think it necessary to deposit their spoil in the castle?"

"The cave, madam," replied Ludovico, "was open to any body, and their treasures would not long have remained undiscovered there, but in the vaults they were secure so long as the report prevailed of their being haunted."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

the most dissimilar to all

The effect on my feelings [...] I cannot better represent, than by supposing myself to have known only our light airy modern chapels of ease, and then for the first time to have been placed, and left alone, in one of our largest Gothic cathedrals in a gusty moonlight night of autumn. 'Now in glimmer, and now in gloom;' often in palpable darkness not without a chilly sensation of terror; then suddenly emerging into broad yet visionary lights with coloured shadows of fantastic shapes, yet all decked with holy insignia and mystic symbols; and ever and anon coming out full upon pictures and stone-work images of great men, with whose names I was familiar, but which looked upon me with countenances and an expression, the most dissimilar to all I had been in the habit of connecting with those names.

This imaginary friend is reporting his amazement. Knowing that the Ancient Mariner was amazed, shattered, shocked, adjusted, I'm wondering if this was the poet's vision of an ideal exchange, one party returning from a mind-blower and the other party listening humbly until they are transformed. The action of the Ancient Mariner is transmission. The fake friend tells Coleridge not to rest, the Mariner needs to "pass, like night, from land to land," and the Guest is not completed. "He went like one that hath been stunned." Friend Wordsworth venturing back from childhood. Richardson's Miriam, who has to leave home so that she can earn a living, notices, whenever she takes a holiday back to her old milieu, that she has been modified psychologically because she has adventured out. She knows that she has deepened. But she can't convey it to the others. Their experiences are different now, and her ability to communicate has developed a gap. She wishes people would read the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. "These wonders are brought to our own door." (Emerson, Nature (1836)) John Clare, going out to glean the wood for his brain's nourishment, decides to retrieve the noise of a nightingale. That written transcription is not a poem to him. He never wants to publish it. The words he picks are the same ones that people before him have used when they wanted to show a reader the same bird, "tweet tweet" and "jug jug jug:" established words. What did he go to find? The German poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff transmits her uncle's story and it is not her uncle's story. Born in 1797, four years after Clare, she died sixteen years before him. I don't wonder who killed those men in her Judenbuche (1842). I want to know where Johannes the doppelgänger went.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

choose but hear

Hugh Kenner, mentioning the "peaked cap" that James Joyce gave to the character Frank, drew the reader's attention to a photograph of Joyce with his hands in his pockets on the streets of Dublin, and there, said Kenner, there on his head, was the peaked cap. I realised that I had never thought of real peaked caps as I was reading that story and if I wanted to be honest then the hat in the picture was not a hat that I would have described with the phrase "peaked cap," or not "peaked" because "cap" would have occurred to me; but not "peaked." On other pages in The Pound Era (1971) I was willing to believe that Kenner and myself were in correspondence but with this material evidence reproduced in front of me I could not go along with him and so I watched as the triumph of his discovery appeared to contract in upon him and draw him away from me into a state of distinct separation, like Mars, or like those Greek gods who come down to give you your impulses and problems before restoring themselves to the clouds or to Olympus. What is it about Coleridge that amazes me when I witness the machinery that is his fake friend who wrote the letter in the Literaria, and who was not his friend, and the letter was not a letter but a piece of writing in the same way that other chapters were pieces of writing (ie, written by Coleridge himself), and in fact this letter was replacing the actually nonexistent piece of writing that Coleridge told you he was suppressing in obedience to the opinions of the friend who wrote the letter? He asks you to imagine himself, the essayist, sacrificing his philosophical intelligence for the good of the public, when really he was happy and relieved -- for it was easy to promise a chapter about the theory of "esemplastic power" and then replace it with a letter, he said to his publisher in another letter; it "was written without taking my pen off the paper except to dip it in the inkstand," that panegyric dodge was the simplest and fastest thing to write in the whole book, the most natural thing, just as it was easier for the Ancient Mariner to chuck his stories off on strangers by pulling them up with eye-glittering stratagems than it was for him to establish a mutual conversation in an ordinary tone with sensitive and well-chosen questions about the other person's friends and family. He could have begun by telling the Guest that it was very interesting to hear that someone was getting married and he hoped the bride was nice and by the way here is a story about a bird he shot once; he hopes you don't like birds. (Trigger warning.)

What wish fulfilment is this for the author of the Ancient Mariner, "He cannot choose but hear," followed by a monologue that leaves the one on the receiving end a "sadder and a wiser man" without any of the reciprocation that might have given the poor Guest the satisfying sense that he, too, was an interesting human being in some way, and not just a sounding board, echo-cave, or inadvertent visitor to one of the haunted houses that the shopping centres around here were erecting in their carparks a week and a half ago? What's this gunslinger fantasy of the human amazement who bursts into the frame, shocks the world, then zooms off? The Guest has to make a little struggle before he can be subdued; so too the poet assumes a resistance on the part of the audience as he constructs his easy letter; he invents the "reader who, like myself [ie, the imaginary friend], is neither prepared nor perhaps calculated for the study of so abstruse a subject so abstrusely treated" and "will, as I have before hinted, be almost entitled to accuse you of a sort of imposition on him," "persons [...] who feel no interest in the subjects," and "many to whose unprepared minds your speculations on the esemplastic power would be utterly unintelligible," generally conjuring up the presence of an audience that needs Coleridge to repress his philosophical essay -- which nonetheless is a stunner, says the friend, who has read it, making him the only being in the entire history of the world who has done so, not excluding Coleridge himself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

from the loom of his own magical brain

Maundering about the vocabulary of individualisms I went to pull some sentences out of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1817). “Essence, in its primary signification, means the principle of individuation, the inmost principle of the possibility of any thing, as that particular thing. It is equivalent to the idea of a thing, whenever we use the word idea, with philosophical precision. Existence, on the other hand, is distinguished from essence by the superabundance of reality.” My attention dragged aside by what Oxford University Press in its one of the abstracts for its Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge refers to as the “components of his eclectically derivative corpus and compulsively devious practice,” and like hundreds of other readers I looked at the many ways this man could find to be himself without admitting it, or only admitting it with a hiding-flirting methodology; how the fake friend (who was himself) wrote him a letter so pangyrical that it seemed calculated to make you suspicious though not conclusively accusing; how he prefaced his plagiarism of Schelling by admitting that the words he was about to write were ahemmingly similar to passages from the untranslated System de transscendentalen Idealismus (1800), “many of the most striking resemblances, indeed all the main and fundamental ideas, were born and matured in my mind before I had ever seen a single page of the German Philosopher,” a fig leaf that no one pulled off until he was dead, which is not the same as saying that nobody had noticed.

After this, what was my astonishment to find that the entire essay, from the first word to the last, is a verbatim translation from Schelling, with no attempt in a single instance to appropriate the paper by developing the arguments or by diversifying the illustrations? Some other obligations to Schelling, of a slighter kind, I have met with in the Biographia Literaria; but this was a barefaced plagiarism, which could in prudence have been risked only by relying too much upon the slight knowledge of German literature in this country, and especially of that section of the German literature.

Thomas de Quincey, Literary and Lake Reminiscences (1834-40)

De Quincey forewords with a bit of magic, “Eight hundred or a thousand years hence, some reviewer may arise who having read the Biographia Literaria of Coleridge, will afterwards read the Philosophical ______ of Schelling, the great Bavarian professor -- a man in some respects worthy to be Coleridge's assessor; and he will then make a singular discovery.” The reviewer in “eight hundred” is identical with de Quincey himself. But how is his information going to be smothered again so that it can arrive freshly, as if for the first revelation, in a thousand years? The request for fantasy complicity against a fantasy contaminant is eccentric; Coleridge was eccentric when he plagiarised Schelling*, C. was stealing, de Q. was dobbing on a dead man, both of them hoping to put a hiding smudge over the mark of wrongness, the evidence, the words, the print, the literature, those things that are the reality but not the essence – no -- they can both say – it’s fine, my essence is right -- distinct – (too many men have written books, said Dorothy Richardson, as if they were controlling an impressive science problem).

*”Had, then, Coleridge any need to borrow from Schelling? Did he borrow in forma pauperis? Not at all: there lay the wonder. He spun daily, and at all hours, for mere amusement of his own activities, and from the loom of his own magical brain, theories more gorgeous by far, and supported by a pomp and luxury of images such as neither Schelling -- no, nor any German that ever breathed, not John Paul -- could have emulated in his dreams. With the riches of El Dorado lying about him, he would condescend to filch a handful of gold from any man whose purse he fancied, and in fact reproduced in a new form, applying itself to intellectual wealth, that maniacal propensity which is sometimes well known to attack enormous proprietors and millionaires for acts of petty larceny.” (ibid)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

to selves

Am thinking now vaguely about swarms, "the immense, quivering mass" with "incessant ebb and flow;" the pressure of a person-swarm in Sarraute, the swarm of history in Ouologuem's Bound to Violence, the pessimism inherent in those swarms (the pressure never offering to stop: the swarm continues infinitely). A swarm of figures dies in the Iliad, somewhat (only somewhat because there are so many) sorted and named. The poet is dumb before the majority of the dead. Alice Oswald extracts the names and deaths for her book Memorial, an argument for the dignity of lists. The characters in Woolf's Waves are named too, marching, advancing, not swarming, even though they are conceived in a mass. Reading Dorothy Richardson's Selected Letters (ed. Gloria G. Fromm) I see the writer defending the word "personality" and refusing to use "individual," an utterance that is, to her, so remotely scientific that it does not have the wherewithal to indicate a person. She says she can't let go of aristocrats because at least they are not part of the mass: they are people. "Richardson's fundamental commitment was to neither sexes or genders but to selves," writes Fromm. "[I]t is a story of success that Richardson tells in Pilgrimage, a story of victory over great odds, a bid for selfhood." Her character Miriam navigates crowds and gatherings of people in London; in the mountains of Switzerland she wants to walk among the snowed trees "into their strange close fellowship that left each one a perfect thing apart." (Oberland.) What about Louis Marlow (really Wilkinson) who sorted the Powys sisters into his own Linnean categories?

In the sisters, inheritance of Powys physical characteristics is on the whole rather less strongly marked than it is in the brothers. Philippa, however, is as much a Powys in appearance and in herself as any of them. She is very like Bertie, though she has not quite the same emphatic resemblance to their father as he has. Bertie's elder daughter is thoroughly Powys, and his younger daughter, by his second marriage, is is very like the Powys sister who died in childhood: her little twin-brother astonishingly, and sometimes ludicrously, resembles his father's father. No Powys could be cuckolded without certain detection if the the cuckoldry resulted in the birth of a boy.

A strange construction of individualisms.

Monday, October 19, 2015

suddenly through the gap

Mudpuddle points me back to Sarraute's Age of Suspicion: Essays on the Novel, a book that I have come to realise describes Sarraute's own habits as well as those of the other authors she discusses. Over the course of her career her fiction grew more and more closely into the frame of pursuit she ascribes to Dostoevsky, "these attractions, these feigned withdrawals, these pursuits and flights, these flirtings and rubbings, these clashes, caresses, bites and embraces, to excite, disturb, bring up to the surface and allow to spread, the immense, quivering mass, whose incessant ebb and flow, whose scarcely perceptible vibration, are the very pulse of life."

"This is common for an author," I say to myself, "they see their own reflections," remembering the moment between four and five o'clock on Saturday afternoon when I looked at the preface to a 1951 Oxford edition of Sterne's Sentimental Journey, and noticed that the last owner of the book had written, "herself" in the margin with a pen next to one of the paragraphs. I turned to the end of the essay and the author was Virginia Woolf. "We hardly know what jest, what jibe, what flash of poetry is not going to glance suddenly through the gap which this astonishingly agile pen has cut in the thick-set hedge of English prose," she had written, the other person then beginning their pen-mark at "glance" but "glance" in this book is at the start of a line and I think this is the only reason why they have begun there; really they were reacting to "agile pen." They believe that Woolf had such a pen, and that it cut a gap "in the thick-set hedge of English prose." Later I saw a mark in the same ink next to a place where Woolf quotes Sterne, "I think I can see the precise and distinguishing marks of national characters more in these nonsensical minutiae, than in the most important matters of state," -- but the ink mark leaves out the end of the quotation, "where great men of all nations talk and stalk so much alike, that I would not give nine-pence to chuse amongst them," which may mean that they did not think Woolf had the same opinion of great men that Sterne did, or that it was not germane to their point. Next to it they have written, "All imp. to V.W." On another page there is a squiggled line next to, "It is thus that Sterne transfers our interest from the outer to the inner. It is no use going to the guide-book; we must consult our own minds." This time the person has not written the name of Virginia Woolf or put any note but I believe they are still thinking of her. She is in their minds so much that they have stopped using her name. She is implicit. At the end of the essay they have circled the word "must" in "but enough of must; it is not a word that Sterne was fond of using" and given it a long tail that runs into the margin where they have added, "yes thank heavens." This could mean that they think Woolf is too demanding or it may mean that they want to remind themselves of the thing she has done here in her essay.

If they are getting so comfortable with her that they are leaving out her name then they might have been at the stage where they want to talk back to her as well; stop deviating from my comforts, Woolf. The end of the preface is about to meet us both, I see it coming, I will tell you to shut up now, knowing that you will do it: nice: obey -- and she does. "Both the gentleman and the lady are trying to control the novelist’s perspective so that it shall resemble and reinforce their own," she wrote once, in her essay on Robinson Crusoe. The person who wrote "Asshole" against one of the villains in my copy of Radcliffe's The Italian knew that they and the author were in cahoots.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

one single move to disengage myself

The narrator in The Aspern Papers brings flowers to the women he is trying to game and the people in the Ullman story take flowers away from lunch. That conjunction of flowers reminded me of the ritual idea that I had been toying with, re. the Ullman story – "they approach the lunch," I had been thinking, "as if they were going to a mass" – and so the approach to Miss Tita became, also, "sacrifice and ritual," as the movement of flowers from the garden into the Venetian palazzo became, in my mind, a continuation of the motion of the flowers away from the house in the Swiss village. "By flowers I would make my way."

As I typed out "sacrifice and ritual" I was also remembering that I had decided to avoid the placement of one book next to another when I thought about them and instead talk about one book at a time which I had not d … I can find dodges for myself and is it all right (I wheedle) if I have comparisons that don't lead to conclusions; for example, after reading Sarraute's Martereau I moved to Flaubert's Sentimental Education, which was being discussed at Wuthering Expectations, and when Frédéric leant a large sum of money to another character without getting a receipt I put the book upside-down on a chair with the pages open because the narrator in Martereau had given away money like that as well; and the ending of Martereau was coming back to me, the narrator's knowledge of, and complicity with, the disgust that he is sure the other characters feel for him; from their direction it is subtly expressed but he witnesses it at the scale that the book sees: "I won't budge, I'm too afraid … one single move to disengage myself, to repel him, one single a bit too brusque move, and something atrocious, something unbearable would happen, an explosion, a frightful conflagration, our clothes torn from us, noxious, deadly emanations, all his distress, his forlornness on me" (tr. Maria Jolas). The "him," who is the character Martereau, asks the narrator to respond and move. There the book ends.

This young narrator is physically weak and sick, he can't undertake heavy professions, and so he lives with his uncle's family instead of making his way in the world, but there is not enough rest in the universe for him. There is no rest; there is no place where he can rest. Even when they are sitting and fishing he can be unsettled by one question about a knot. "Is my knot well tied? A fisherman's knot, you must have learnt it when you were a boy scout." With that, and for the millionth weary time, he is asked to consider himself, his being, his knowledge, the context it has when he puts it next to the expectations of other people, their own abilities, their accomplishments, the "tentacles" that they probe him with; and this is hell.

Martereau is Gothic without needing the mountains, banditti, or such large decorations; the scenery has adjusted itself to a river bank by a house and the imprisonment of the narrator doesn't take place in a castle, but the moods of suspicion, dread, the sublime, suffocation, etc, are shared; the medium for that dread in Sarraute is the intrusion of questions and presences; the Gothic is a genre of intrusions and presences – things coming at you – I say to myself, repeating the words – they come mysteriously at and around, they circle – you can't defend -- and there is the distress of elimination waiting for you --

Now if I finish at "putting the book down" there is no intelligent comparison between Sarraute and Flaubert. So, stop.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

well disposed

There is a moment in Nathalie Sarraute's Do You Hear Them? (1972) when the father returns to a phrase that he ended, earlier, with an ellipsis, and provides the information that the ellipsis concealed. The story that he tells is interesting to himself but it is not an unspeakable secret; his coy and shy withholding is at least a little pathetic, and it a sign of the anxiety that eventually instructs the other characters to despise him. Here it occurs to me that the mood of sickened dread that I fall into whenever I read Sarraute is close to the feeling I have when I find a true crime website and run through the stories of murders. Consider murder as an activity by which people are made absent. When Louis Marlow, in his memoir of the Powys brothers (Welsh Ambassadors (1936)), decides to explain his friend John Cowper's reasons for eliminating his mother from his autobiography he interprets it as part of the other man's masochism, an aspect of the same self-abasement that made Powys enjoy bad striptease theatre. I was horrified when Marlow introduced the erased mother into the memoir as if she had been a normal person -- it seemed indecent and shameful; he should be ashamed, ashamed, to reveal her shockingly with these ordinary words -- "Mrs. Powys was friendly to me, well disposed; even, in her reserved way, affectionate: chiefly, I thought, because she saw me as shy and subdued."

Mrs. Powys hated success. She hated, with secret intensity, well-constituted people, or even people whose health was too good. When Llewelyn developed consumption and was determined not to die of it, she was far from friendly to his insistent will. She did not like his going to Switzerland, she did not like him having so many windows open. "These young men," she said, "seem to want to live forever."

I reflect that the unspoken gaps in Henry James' fiction seem playful by comparison, lighthearted, clever, even in Turn of the Screw, which, if Sarraute is like true crime, is like a fairytale instead, the characters standing phenomenally like symbols or metaphors inside one of the enclosures that James liked to establish: witness his palazzi, his country houses, the rooms that close in around Isabel Archer, the home that frames Miss Tita when she is transfigured, her beatitude the hidden thing to be witnessed in that story, the true core or whatever, accessible through sacrifice and ritual. "When I look at it my chagrin at the loss of the letters becomes almost intolerable."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

as innocent as a doctor's thesis

Words under pressure can appear sinister, they begin to diffuse a secretion of unreasonable excitement throughout the story (the hysterical and contextually correct "joy" in Ullman's "attentive joy"), and now it is not Ullman I'm thinking of, it is Nathalie Sarraute at the start of "fools say" (1976), interrogating the phrase, "She is sweet;" now I remember her in Between Life and Death (1968) as she wrings out the word "héros." That true core of the bundt cake in Ullman is the momentary solidness of an interrogative chamber atmosphere (boundaried by the overt happiness of these people, arriving with joy and then accepting their flowers at the end), which is, also, the atmosphere of Sarraute's fiction, a fiction that is haunted by a "they," a collection of sportspeople or hunters who are searching for a score, a nasty wound, a little nourishing hit --

There's no use in shutting yourself up in your room to read, simply, or to work at anything as innocent as a doctor's thesis, they won't be taken in. Without showing it they possess – certain of them – an extraordinarily sharp instinct. Signs that, like ostriches, he believes to be invisible are perfectly clear to them.

(tr. Maria Jolas)

– but the hit is always brief and the movement of the books as a whole is the slipping action of a fluid that streams out from under them as they try to put their hands on it; the author's subtlety is a long report on the subject of their trapping or sniffing actions – her characters are sensitive to an invisible pressure that can be or could be forced or persuaded, or detected – "All he needed was for them to let him see that they sensed, as he did, this presence, that it is there for them too … something that exists very strongly, which it is not possible to disregard, which resembles nothing else … if they will just acknowledge that." (Ellipses hers.) Nothing is uttered unconsciously (this is in Ullman as well, and in Walser), and if the character is somehow unconscious of it then the author is not and nor is the reader, ever – so that a conversation in Sarraute's books (which are almost entirely conversation with nearly no description) is like water probing downhill and finding the most sure route but always via people, slippery people, never that solidness in things, never a bundt cake. This is a train of thought that Mudpuddle has put me onto by mentioning "the poetry of chinese taoist hermits" –

Drinking Alone with the Moon

From a pot of wine among the flowers 
I drank alone. There was no one with me -- 
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon 
To bring me my shadow and make us three. 
Alas, the moon was unable to drink 
And my shadow tagged me vacantly; 
But still for a while I had these friends 
To cheer me through the end of spring.... 
I sang. The moon encouraged me. 
I danced. My shadow tumbled after. 
As long as I knew, we were boon companions. 
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another. 
...Shall goodwill ever be secure? 

(tr. unknown)

– wrote Li Po/Li Bai (701 – 762), who was sensitive to the pressure exerted by non-human objects as well as human ones, but in Sarraute the presence is always human and hostile, without a reason for that hostility; without a landscape setting where it might be taking place.

Monday, September 21, 2015

hidden, like the fragrance of the flowers

How was the "real core" of that bundt cake so delicately and accurately detectable to Regina Ullman and also to the characters, who could sense its "candid truth" in the light of several signs that were handed out by the author who had created it and likewise created them, and so let us say that the cake is at liberty to understand them just as profoundly as they understand it. If they can see that "the knife stuck fast in [the cake] couldn't find its way in or out," then this cake, which has the same status as them, a noun in a book, must be able to watch them experience their "attentive joy that people feel for one another at these moments" as they arrive at the house where food is going to be cut apart and eaten.

Throughout the story you have this attentiveness; the fine-tuned social senses of these people are at the forefront: "each person had his own sense of proportion, and could sense that the others did as well: still their petty eyes kept searching for something else." Searching, that's what they're doing; they are looking and feeling through the minute signals of the social and transcendent weft. "They have the thoughtful, expectant look of the man who has done everything and is prepared for what is to come." This is as they are moving towards the house where they are going to have lunch and a cake. They are like people who are living in a village where a volcano is about to erupt but the volcano is only a comestible and after they have eaten it they each accept the gift of a flower before they leave the house.

The young girl came to the table with a little basket on her arm, bringing each of the guests one of the little roses or buds that grew in the garden. Her smile was hidden, like the fragrance of the flowers.

The horror seeps into the world very obliquely and the aftermath is expressed gently and obliquely too as they put the flowers in their hats or buttonholes "or held it by the very end of its stem, as if it could easily wilt." How are the flowers hiding their fragrances? Why does the bundt cake try to conceal the knife?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

the how and what, the this and that

– in order to know "whether John Clare was less influenced by Charlotte Smith as he aged" I think I would have to read everything Clare had written. Then re-read Smith's Elegiac Sonnets. Next, get myself a yardstick. Easiest would be to count the number of times they both (independently of one another) use the word 'the' and compare his number to her number and see if they grow farther apart but other writers have used 'the' as well so no go. Find some other pinpoint to free myself from the appearance of futility or farce, two characteristics that infested other writers I have been reading, Regina Ullman and Robert Walser, so that one of the questions that hangs around them both might be what is futility? "All stories bear resemblance to an elegant skirt that wants to cling tightly and becomingly to to a shape, that is, to something concrete: in other words they have to be told in such a way that the sum total of words forms a skirt that fits the body loosely but with a certain conciseness – fits, that is, the how and what, the this and that, to be reported." (Walser: All those who like to laugh while crying …, tr Susan Bernofsky) A hero named Westermann enters his Goddess of Poetry, and the composure of those sentences, the ones that describe this hero, irritates the author. "This intruder Westermann is getting on my nerves. How does he plan on reimbursing me for the attention I'm paying him, for seeing he comes out of it favourably?" God what are those characters doing? Finishing lunch and leaving. "I wish they'd stick fast to the table; then I'd be rid of them." Coleridge: "A nation, to be great, ought to be compressed in its increment by nations more civilized than itself—as Greece by Persia; and Rome by Etruria, the Italian states, and Carthage." (Table Talk.) Walser asks: who compresses a story into its increment? He keeps returning to the river that runs through the town even when it is far away from the action; his mind will wonder ah dear. One Ullman story becomes solemn around the presence of a cake. "But then, like a small, curled dragon, the lie came crawling out of the cake. It had been purchased at the last minute from the baker, and from the outside it looked just like every other bundt cake in the world. As for the astonishment it produced you would simply accept it in silence, just as she had done, but you could not simply accept the candid truth that was its real core." (Retold, tr Kurt Beals.) And Theo. Dreyer in Joan of Arc spends so much time looking at the contours of Joan's head next to the wet humps of her gleaming eyes, and it is one of the great films of world cinema say the critics: what do I make of that? Now springing out of context into my implied mouth come the eyes like "gaping well-heads" from Peake.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

wreathing round the thorn

As I was reading Mudpuddle's last comment I realised that if I wanted to say for sure whether John Clare was less influenced by Charlotte Smith as he aged, or more  –

(– or influenced by the romantic style she represented, not only by her specifically, for who is influenced by anyone specifically? Like any Romantic he was moved by the thought of Chatterton's suicide. "Coleridge's monody on Chatterton is beautiful." He tried to compose at least one poem about the other poet's death. A publisher "said he wanted to print [it] in a penny book to sell to hawkers but I was doubtful of its merits and not covetous of such fame so I declined it." (Autobiographical Fragments.) "[L]ookd in to the Poems of Chatterton to see what he says about flowers," he wrote on the "3rd Day of Sep: 1824," and as he read he re-discovered a "favourite" line, which he copied into his diary in this form: "The king cups brasted with the morning dew."

In Chatterton:
Dacya's sonnes, whose hayres of bloude redde hue
Lyche kynge-cuppes brastynge wythe the morning due,
Arraung'd ynne dreare arraie,
Upponne the lethale daie,
Spredde farre and wyde onne Watchets shore

(from the Songe to Aella, Lorde of the Castel of Brystowe Ynne Daies of Yore in the Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley and others, in the Fifteenth Century, 1777)

If Chatterton meant "bursting" when he wrote "brastynge," as the author of the 1789 Life of Chatterton assumes that he did ("that delicious line, so full of the freshness and fragrance and vigorous youth of a spring morning"), then why did Clare write "brasted" instead of "brasting" when he doesn't use (I don't think) the equivalent, "bursted," in his own poetry, to denote anything except the past tense? What did he understand it to mean? There is "Wheat spindles bursted into ear | And browning faintly – grasses sere | In swathy seed pods dryd by heat | Rustling when brushd by passing feet," from A Sunday with Shepherds and Herdboys (pub. 1835 in The Rural Muse), and "The weaver […] couldnt draw | His breath but stampt his happy foot | & bursted, 'haw haw haw'" from a draft fragment that was published in John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837 but the bursting in Clare is already done and over, whereas the bursting in the Chatterton imagery is happening now ...

It may be that if Clare had written Aella then the king cups would have already burst with morning dew; he would be comparing the heads of Dacya's sons to the flowers after they were already too full of the dew to burst any further, or this dew-filling would naturally have been a memory in him ("who sees the taller buttercup carpeting the closes in golden fringe without a remembrance of Chatterton's beautiful mention of it if he knows it" he wrote once (pub. in The Natural History Prose Writings of John Clare) – the line is a settled conjuration inside his brain) and therefore he recalls the word brastynge as it would have been in himself, but: shut up: here's an answer in The Rural Muse –  burnished? –

I see the wild flowers, in their summer morn
Of beauty, feeding on joy's luscious hours;
The gay convolvulus, wreathing round the thorn,
Agape for honey showers;
And slender kingcup, burnished with the dew
Of morning's early hours,
Like gold yminted new.

And mark by rustic bridge, o'er shallow stream,
Cow-tending boy, to toil unreconciled,
Absorbed as in some vagrant summer dream;
Who now, in gestures wild,
Starts dancing to his shadow on the wall,
Feeling self-gratified,
Nor fearing human thrall.

(Summer Images [my italics])

In D.H. Lawrence:

The common flaunts bravely; but below, from the rushes
Crowds of glittering king-cups surge to challenge the blossoming bushes

(from The Wild Common,(1921) –)

The next lines in Chatterton:

Than dyddst thou furiouse stande,
And bie thie valyante hande
Beesprengedd all the mees wythe gore

The king cup is also known as caltha palustris or marsh-marigold.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

o'er my soul short rays of reason fly

I mentioned this in the comments but I will say, again, here, in the open, that I feel disappointed whenever I realise that those two facts can't be mated closely together – I mean that one can't be turned into the consequence of the other – 1. the fact that John Clare read Charlotte Smith's phrase, "mossy nest," and 2. the fact that he wrote about a mossy nest. I do not have the satisfaction of John Livingston Lowes who notices that when Dorothy Wordsworth walks at night with Coleridge "the moon which she sees is the Mariner's moon" because in her journal entry for that day it is "horned," when everywhere else it is "crescent;" and from that Lowes deduces that her friend has recited

The hornèd Moon, with one bright star
Almost atween the tips

I see my desire reflected in Fromm, who is so tempted by the proximity of upheaval in Dorothy Richardson's life to the upheaval of the Second World War that she shoves them together: "yet just as England was to withstand the terrible blitz, Dorothy Richardson's strength of character would pass the supreme test: the failure of an edition that Richard Church had represented to her as 'the final bid for fame.'" (The Selected letters of Dorothy Richardson.)

In Fromm's phrase the importance of Dorothy Richardson is being asked to reside not in herself and her private reaction but in her synonymity with an international event: the biographer is longing to see Richardson's fortitude mount grandly outwards, and I think of a related longing in Smith, several times, in her sonnets, when she decides that a human being's emotion or fate is as the landscape is.

But the wind rises, and the turf receives
        The glittering web:--So, evanescent, fade
Bright views that Youth with sanguine heart, believes:
        So vanish schemes of bliss …

(from Sonnet LXIII)

Or in the turbid water, rude and dark,
        O'er whose wild stream the gust of Winter raves,
Thy trembling light with pleasure still I mark,
        Gleam in faint radiance on the foaming waves!
So o'er my soul short rays of reason fly,
Then fade …

(from Sonnet XXIII)

Some of this romantic "mellancholly" in Clare's first published book of poems too (whereas in the later work a more precisely nostalgic sadness, if I'm right). "I began to write Sonnets at first from seeing two very pretty ones in an old news paper I think they were by charlotte Smith [sic]" he says in Autobiographical Fragment A32. The first were begun when he was fourteen or fifteen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

grig grig grig chew chew

I typed an answer to one of Scott's comments and deleted it because it was a comparison between Charlotte Smith and John Clare; it said that Clare could write a poem with some natural thing or event as the subject whereas nature, in Smith's sonnets, was a route that brought her to the subject of melancholy – but I realised what I had done and so deleted – no, I said mentally, consider her singly, in herself, doing this and be inspired by Clare, in his natural history prose, praising some other poet for observing nature in itself, or criticising because the other poet is a city boy who has relaxed himself into a phrase that has been worn in for him by others, not observed, about a nightingale (which is why, when I see Clare saying that he likes Smith for her observations, I imagine him thinking of the phrase "mossy nest" in her poem On the Departure of the Nightingale (1827), "the lone brake that shades thy mossy nest" – for the fact that it puts moss correctly in the nightingale's nest, which is the sort of detail he notices himself; and he will see the same thing eight years later when his verse The Nightingale's Nest is published in 1835.

… no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots : dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair


Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit’s mossy cell.)

Considering then the notion of correct retention, and the matter of considering a thing singly, and my mind goes to his transliteration of a nightingale's song, which was published by Margaret Grainger, over a century after he had written it, from a document that she refers to as MS A58 II:

Chee chew chee chew chee
chew – cheer cheer cheer
chew chew chew chee
– up cheer up cheer up
tweet tweet tweet jug jug jug

wew wew wew – chur chur
woo it woo it tweet tweet
tweet jug jug jug

tee rew tee rew tee rew – gur
gur – chew rit chew rit – chur-chur chur
chur will-will will-will tweet-em
tweet em jug jug jug

grig grig grig chew chew

wevy wit wevy wit
wevy wit – chee chit
chee-chit chee chit
weewit weewit wee
wit cheer cheer
cheer pelew
pelew pelew –
bring a jug bring a
jug bring a jug

I relate this to the other occasions when he records his attempt to "prick" or notate a tune that he has heard a gypsy play on the fiddle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

a thresher & a labouring rustic

Graingerism instead of Frommianism: a policy that I will not keep up in a million years, and might as well chuck away on the spot, but at least the aspiration is good: it looks nice, and I can feel relieved for a second. Grigory Potemkin must have been cheerful. "I'm happy as a cherub when no one encumbers my life with declarations of esteem." (Robert Walser, tr Susan Bernofsky, The Robber.) Margaret Grainger, the editor of the Natural History Prose Writing of John Clare, writes an introduction without symmetry; she explains Clare's influences in a modulated way and she can even write the word "momentous" without being dramatic, like this: "Clare's twenty-seventh year, 1820, was momentous; it brought marriage, publication of Clare's first volume, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, by the London partnership of John Taylor and James Hessey in uneasy collaboration with the Stamford bookseller, Edward Drury, Taylor's cousin; and a visit to the metropolis" – followed by more -- "The poet received his first letters, made visits to the homes of local aristocracy, was pestered with callers to his house seeking 'out of a mere curiosity … to know wether [he] … was the son of a thresher & a labouring rustic,' and was taken by such patrons as Mrs Emmerson and Lord Radstock –" the word momentous is ballasted with evidence until you can relax into the impression that she has written a vision of John Clare as John Clare, and not as a parallel or symmetrical object in opposition to whoever: Wordsworth, John Dyer, or any other nature poet who was around at the time, Clare himself expressing pleasure at the work of Mrs Charlotte Smith (1749 - 1806). "[H]er poems may be only pretty but I felt much pleasd with them because she wrote more from what she had seen of nature then from what she had read of it there fore those that read her poems find new images which they have not read of before tho they have often felt them & from those assosiations poetry derives the power of pleasing in the happiest manner." (Natural History Letter II, c. 1824.)

Sonnet XLII

Composed during a Walk on the Downs, Nov. 1787

The dark and pillowy cloud, the sallow trees,
    Seem o'er the ruins of the year to mourn;
And, cold and hollow, the inconstant breeze
    Sobs through the falling leaves and wither'd fern.
    O'er the tall brow of yonder chalky bourn,
The evening shades their gather'd darkness fling,
    While, by the lingering light, I scarce discern
The shrieking night-jar sail on heavy wing.
    Ah! yet a little--and propitious spring
Crown'd with fresh flowers shall wake the woodland strain;
    But no gay change revolving seasons bring
To call forth pleasure from the soul of pain;
Bid Syren Hope resume her long-lost part,
And chase the vulture Care--that feeds upon the heart.

Charlotte Smith

Thursday, August 13, 2015


When I opened a Dorothy Richardson biography in the library yesterday without reading the name of the biographer and saw, near the bottom of the page on my right, the word "nevertheless," meaning that something was true, "nevertheless" another thing was also true in opposition to the first thing, then my heart exclaimed, "Fromm," and it was Fromm.

By the last page she had decided that Robinson and D.H. Lawrence were not as whole as Woolf and James Joyce (two teams of two, one boy one girl, and I became distracted, for what if, in this book and in no other place, symmetry was necessary, and all arguments should consist of symmetry first and foremost and could this biography of Dorothy Richardson be the mental door to a place where all good things are symmetrical, all faces exactly the same right & left, etc?) – they were not as whole because they couldn't keep "life" out of their books, they kept muddling art with life, whereas Woolf and Joyce had detached themselves purely and determinedly into "art." The second team had made a greater commitment and a more important sacrifice: that was the biographer's conclusion.

The distribution of success and failure is clear but is it illuminating?

Richardson and Lawrence's muddying-with-life usually comes in the form of apparent impatience – they want to push against things and argue – and Woolf and Joyce have placed themselves away from that physical punch-up mode, therefore Lawrence and Richardson have roughly-formed books, pulling away into lumps of lecture or hatred, while Woolf and Joyce have artly-formed books, integrating their arguments coherently, without the blasting, ranting irritation. Whatever feeling they have, they like you to think that they're putting it to work. Whereas Lawrence and Richardson are willing to give you the impression that they are worked by their feelings.

And Woolf might have been thinking along similar lines to Fromm when she said that Richardson was flawed because she wrote from one self-boundaried perspective, that of Miriam Henderson. She was not universal and she did not have a wide view.

I believe it is good to have these lumps of hate and gnashing in books. I am in favour of Lawrence and Richardson. I do not think that they are inferior.

Lawrence and Richardson trusted themselves to the veracity of their lumps, and Lawrence at least was a believer in the "under-consciousness so devilish" (as he said of the United States) and in the eviction of all under-consciousnesses from their chrysalis cases: "many a dragon-fly never gets out of the chrysalis case: dies inside." And he will get out.

To remove the lumps because they are lumps would mean submission to the alien thing called art that they do not entirely trust. They have seen that it can be wielded against them. The biographer says that they have not achieved a coherent art, but they have eyed tidiness and decided against it. That is not art, for them.

So I was in an argument with Fromm, and I wanted to bring up Margaret Grainger, the editor who wrote the introduction for The Natural History Prose Writing of John Clare, in order to say, "Here is somebody who does not write symmetry or "nevertheless," and I prefer her –" but then I would be creating a two-team system, like Fromm, and I would be putting one person against another and ticking off their differences, like Fromm, "The two women wrote introductions, nevertheless Grainger was …" and I would be Frommian, as I was when I wrote the paragraph beginning with "Richardson and Lawrence's muddying …" – absolute pure Frommianism, my God.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

the character of an austere moralist

Fromm puts Richardson in a group with one hand and takes her out with the other: she is not like Christina Stead; she is not like Robert Musil and she is not like John Cowper Powys. "And different as they were from each other, it was their difference from a good part of the rest of the world that brought them together in the first place." Of course I'm wrong at the end of my last post and the essayist isn't summarising the author for people who haven't read Pilgrimage; why would she think she was doing that?

Still the question. Why try to construct this fantasy of a group to which she might belong? I don't have an answer. It's in Fromm's mind somewhere. She imagines a group; she asks herself if the person she is discussing belongs inside that group or out of it. Richardson's husband Alan Odle is not simply tall and thin, he is different from other tall, thin people. "[E]xtremely tall, shockingly thin, cadaverously pale, and exceedingly courteous." Then there is another fact, which she presents as a contrast, "but his brown eyes glowed with intelligence." So removing him step by step into a group of his own.

In spite of the decadent surface, Alan Odle had the character of an austere moralist.

If I am told that Dorothy Richardson is not like Robert Musil then I am being teased with the prospect of her being like Robert Musil. Simultaneously I am reassured that she is not Robert Musil. She escapes. Should it be characterised as an escape? I don't know. Fromm seems tantalised by the way things could have been. Richardson's books "speak the dissenting language of a separatist" but Woolf, her contemporary, "was admitted into the company of the master prose stylists of the late nineteenth century" when she was re-evaluated into the 1960s and '70s, and so she has entered the canon. Powys preferred Richardson to Woolf. Why, when other people did not? Because "the ears of a few readers are attuned to a different music not heard by the rest of their generation," Fromm says. Powys is inside a group of people with attuned ears.

As Duchamp constructed or selected his objects he wrote notes to himself about the "infra-thin." Does that fit here?

It would be better to try to go into the infra-thin interval which separates 2 'identicals' than to conveniently accept the verbal generalisation which makes 2 twins look like 2 drops of water.

Mudpuddle in the comments has made me realise that John Clare's narrative voice never groups him with the farm labourer class he was born into. His poems are endless leisure.

The south west wind how pleasant in the face
It breathes while sauntering in a musing pace
I roam these new ploughed fields and by the side
Of this old wood where happy birds abide
And the rich blackbird through his golden bill
Litters wild music when the rest are still
Now luscious comes the scent of blossomed beans
That oer the path in rich disorder leans
Mid which the bees in busy rows and toils
Load home luxuriantly their yellow spoils
The herd cows toss the molehills in their play
And often stand the strangers steps at bay
Mid clover blossoms red and tawney white
Strong scented with the summers warm delight

(Beans in Blossom)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

waddling with distended craw

I want, when I see Blaine Hill say that the last post reminds him of Macbeth, to write a sentence about Dorothy Richardson that ends with the words "like John Clare," but what would the rest of the sentence look like, that's my question to myself; how should I connect that slight faint feeling that they are somehow sympathetic, to the firmness or thoughtfulness of a sentence? The impression is not firm or thoughtful.* I begin to work out the amount of time I will have to spend talking about the ways in which they are not alike before I will feel entitled to say, "in this respect they are similar."

What is the connection, really: it's only the aheroic sublime that she observes in shabby wallpaper, and the sublime ditto that he finds in ruts or wind, and their mutual stubborn decision to record time passing over these things.

The crib stock fothered – horses suppered up
And cows in sheds all littered-down in straw
The threshers gone the owls are left to whoop
The ducks go waddling with distended craw
Through little hole made in the henroost door

(from Clare's Winter Evening)

But the dark yellow graining of the wall-paper was warm. It shone warmly in the the stream of light pouring through the barred lattice window. In the further part of the room, darkened by the steep slope of the roof, it gleamed like stained wood. The window space was a little square wooden room, the long low double lattice breaking the roof, the ceiling and walls warmly reflecting its oblong of bright light.

(Richardson: The Tunnel)

Opening Windows on Modernism: the Selected Letters of Dorothy Richardson (ed. Gloria G. Fromm) I read this sentence, "And perhaps the Australian outsider, Christina Stead, also bears comparison to Richardson, if not in her political commitment, then in the disposition of her unconventional life;" and I see that it is only there because Fromm wants to place Richardson in a group, even one that does not, she says, function usefully: "sui generis […] But this is a company of originals." Leah Dickerman, one of the essayists I read a few days ago in Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, had the reverse of Fromm's dissimilarity problem: she was arguing against other commentators who have tried to downplay Schwitters's influence on Robert Rauschenberg, hoping to manufacture (the other commentators, not Dickerman) a state of heroic separation where the American artist can thrive freely.

So you have a fret over the debt that one artist should pay to another or be seen to pay to another, and at the other end of the struggle you have the desire to place people in a contextual group (Fromm), a desire that comes from a simple question: how do you summarise Richardson for people who haven't read her?

But then why are they reading her letters?

* This post of mine is not a reflection on Blaine Hill's comment, only on the thoughts I had afterwards.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver

I think over Powys' criticism of Woolf on the grounds of "Life Itself" and wonder if it is a) legitimate because the gap between Life Itself and life-in-fiction is a phenomenon that she often considers on the page and here is someone willing to situate her on one side or the other, but b) illegitimate because I have already seen her decide that she is making art, not life.

It would be intellectually dishonest of her to pretend that a book is "Life Itself;" that's her belief.

But tantalised, she's tantalised. "Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers," says Bernard at the end of The Waves; "Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story –" she'll concede that perfect possession of life is impossible: "Whatever sentence I extract whole and entire from this cauldron is only a string of six little fish that let themselves be caught while a million others leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver, and slip through my fingers." Or: "Out rush a bristle of horned suspicions, horror, horror, horror — but what is the use of painfully elaborating these consecutive sentences when what one needs is nothing consecutive but a bark, a groan?"

The question that she asks of herself is, how should life be misrepresented?

She has already judged Edgeworth, who can't achieve the detachment that she wants from him.* She is uneasy in the face of Margaret Cavendish, "diffused, uneasy, contorted," as well as charmed by her; in the Cavendish essay she comes back and back around the other writer's inability to measure her capacities and be guided by them. "It was from the plain of complete ignorance, the untilled field of her own consciousness, that she proposed to erect a philosophic system that was to oust all others." So there needs to be cool estimation and measurement ...

She invents other modes of symmetry or patterning. She reasserts order. It will be her own order, which she has made, in order to measure and assess and weigh, and also to contain the awareness that measurement is not possible: "How impossible to order them rightly; to detach one separately."

When she is dissatisfied with Richardson's Tunnel she will say that the other author does not measure and asses, "sensations, impressions, ideas and emotions glance off, unrelated and unquestioned;" but Richardson is willing to risk the Cavendish judgement where Woolf is not; she will write from "the untilled field of her own consciousness." She will risk not being witty. A reviewer in Full Stop who has read Viviane Forrester's "strange little book about Virginia Woolf," says that aesthetes prefer wit, therefore literature will be judged for its lightness – Richardson will not do it – and she will drive herself against the sensible realisations of Woolf, about art and life – she will go into the tantalisation – like someone driving their boat down the whirlpool plughole –

* I think he's more aware of romance than she says.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

on where we wanted to go

Why should I compare David Ireland to Virginia Woolf, I ask myself, when there's nothing in common between them, and the difference is so obvious, so absolutely gaping and open, like a chasm or pit; why should they be brought to the same area – because I had his two books in my head and then I read hers; that's why – it was the chronological proximity of my reading. Taking a non-fiction hardback off the shelf at UNLV a few days ago I discovered that the North American author (whoever they were, I'm not sure) had read a number of Australian books and come away feeling puzzled because the authors seemed not to arrange an ambition for themselves and move after it in pursuit; instead they circled around an idea that they did not directly reveal or, perhaps, she suspected, understand. Then the book would end.

The two David Irelands were like that, I thought: this circling around a large unstated balloon (through a mosaic of small scenes) and the ending would be a conclusive destruction.

But he tells you that direction itself is a treacherous idea, and the suspicion he feels towards any purposed motion is one part of his satire; purpose will be thwarted, it's the way of the world. "The Boatman and I were concentrated absolutely on where we wanted to go. We had no mind left over to escape each other. Back and forth we went from side to side, left right left right in perfect time, getting no farther forward; each, for the sake of a tiny inconvenience, wishing the other had never existed." Those are the last lines of The Unknown Industrial Prisoner.

Completeness and intellectual working-through are problems in Woolf's work, according to John Cowper Powys in his 1931 monograph on Dorothy Richardson. It is a strength in Richardson that she doesn't do that, he says. "She takes her place in the great role of thinkers who, like Heraclitus and Goethe and Nietzsche are intent on Life Itself, in its mysterious flowing stream, rather than any human hypothesis of its whence and whither."

Saturday, July 4, 2015

she drew a line there, in the centre

Going back to some of Woolf's earlier essays in the first Common Reader I saw her searching here and there for ways to impregnate the landscape with the weight of her ideas, which was also the weight of time, with biography as a means to parcel out time; see (I say to myself) how many autobiographical books she reads, and how she tends to detach the events from the person's method of telling them, and then how she will re-tell the same events for her own audience, and comment on the veracity or strangeness of the original teller's own telling when she compares it to the broader view that she has created out of her fertilised imagination. "He was impervious to the romance of the situations in which he found himself." (The Lives of the Obscure.)

There she is in the first essay, The Pastons and Chaucer, returning like an elastic to John Paston's grave: "the grave of John Paston in Bromholm Priory without a tombstone," "his father’s tomb was still unmade," "the very church where her husband lay unremembered," this focus that can locate her in any other subject she decides to discuss; and later in her writing she will, again, find a physical object where the weight of some ineffable force will hang: think of the car in Mrs Dalloway with the unknown person inside, and everyone compelled to orbit around it for a moment.

How does a person describe their own life, she wonders: but the point-of-focus idea doesn't seem to have come from any of these diaries or books of letters. It appears to have evolved out of her way of storytelling. This structural device is being used as a way of parcelling out time-in-life as well as time-in-story. (Is that a good thing -- question --)

I go back to David Ireland yet again to compare their methods of approaching the Ineffable: Woolf hanging this focal point out like a hook to find that fish (not expecting to catch it, but planning for the sight of a ripple), and Ireland, who is less scientific, making his people butt their heads blindly and stupidly in the direction of Something: they don't know exactly what. Whatever it is, they can't have it, a fact that makes him savage; this savagery is absent from Woolf's civilised holistic observations. She oversees the broad reach of time but he is inflamed by the obdurate present, that will not let his people proceed to the end-point right now; and so he is more violent than her; and so the Canoe and the Prisoner can end with bursts of destruction that, in her books, are replaced by quiet gestures of reconciliation and wholeness. "With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished." (To the Lighthouse.)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

presently there broke out a huge windy conflagration

Putting down the Judge I opened one of Virginia Woolf's posthumous essay collections, Death of the Moth, and asked myself a question: why am I pleased by Woolf when she moves from her description of the landscape into a meditation on living energy, when I'm irritated by West when she goes from "little strawberries" into potatoes and then, in Ellen's mind, to the memory of "a potato-field she and her mother had seen one day when they went to Cramond. Thousands and thousands of white flowers running up to a skyline in ruler-drawn lines"?

The answer I came up with was this, and it's virtually the same as the thoughts I had in the last post, but as I've said before, I repeat myself -- Woolf invites the landscape to attack her privacy and disturb her equilibrium while West's description has the opposite effect: it restores equilibrium, it serves the plot, it reasserts themes and brings them back into line. "The skies intervened to patch it up between them, for presently there broke out a huge windy conflagration of a sunset –"

Also: West's lyricisms are like musical interludes: the atmosphere relaxes. We are not asked to do anything. We can listen to the author lilt. "[T]he dark glassy water, which slid over small frequent weirs, the tents of green fire which the sun made of the overarching branches, the patches of moss that grew so symmetrically between the tree-trunks on the steep river-banks above the path that they might have been the dedicatory tablets of rustic altars …"

But Woolf's countryside involves her in contradictions and us as well … it does not solve anything ... it does not exist so that Mrs Yaverland will look picturesque against a spooky cliff ... "when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely" … ruminating like that as I was reading the other essays in Moth I was in the mood to recognise my own ideas when they were formulated by someone else & so I quivered when I saw the writer critique the authored landscapes of her contemporary George Moore, with these words: "nature [...] lifts him up and enhances his mood without destroying it." This is a negative criticism: the writer should allow their mood to be affected by the sight of trees and birds, even ruined, believes Woolf. I don't think it would be outrageous to assume that the Moth essay was written by the light of that thought. A little later I became alert again when I read this phrase in John Ashbery's translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations: "In the wood there is a bird, his song stops you and makes you blush."

Monday, June 22, 2015

the different delicate textures of the nuts of meat

Wrongness – I thought: wrongness somehow: there are thoughts in this book that are not – they are not ... what are they not? -- I was trying Rebecca West's second novel, The Judge (1922), the story of a young secretary who meets a charismatic man and his mother, of whom: "everything about her threatened that her performances would be too strange."

Philip E. Ray has argued* that readers would be less likely to misdiagnose the Judge if they stopped thinking of it as exaggerated naturalism and began to look at it instead as a piece of self-consciously Gothic literature, with its isolated house, piratical seducer ("terrifying strength and immensity"), and the naive heroine Ellen Melville who is coaxed out of her home and away into danger after her parent dies, like Emily St. Aubert in The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Ellen doesn't suffer from Emily's "intensity of anguish," not even after her fiance commits a crime at the end of the book; she "broke into sobs" but that's nothing compared to Emily's struggle against dissolution, which she loses and wins and loses and wins over hundreds of pages.

Emily checked the tears, that trembled in her eyes. [...] Her tears were concealed, but St. Aubert heard her convulsive sobs. [...] Emily dried her tears and attempted to speak. [...] Emily, having turned away to hide her tears, quitted the room to indulge them. [...] Emily felt tears swell into her eyes, and then resentment checked them. [...] Valancourt ... learned from the flood of tears, which she could no longer repress, the fatal truth.

Emily is like Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, so fine-tuned that she needs to liquidate herself.

She resurrects, however. "Emily checked her tears, and followed her father to the parlour."

West's heroine cuts her sobbing short when the author wants style and reason to reassert itself: the tears do not stop Ellen speaking, she immediately offers an explanation for her fiance's behaviour, and soon she is thinking in Poetry: "But surely this was far too much to ask of her, who had learned what life was; who knew that, though life at its beginning was lovely as a corn of wheat, it was ground down to flour that must make bitter bread between two human tendencies." West reverts to Style: a tic: she retreats into it: a farce.

"I do mean to commit suicide, though I am getting my tea!" she snapped. [...] It was only because of all the things there are to eat this was a dreadful world to leave. She thought reluctantly of food; the different delicate textures of the nuts of meat that, lying in such snug unity within the crisp brown skin, make up a saddle of mutton; yellow country cream, whipped no more than makes it bland as forgiveness; little strawberries, red and moist as a pretty mouth; Scotch bun, dark and rich and romantic like the plays of Victor Hugo; all sorts of things nice to eat, and points of departure for the fancy.

Dorothy Richardson warned us against literature like this: charming, attractive, assertive, assured of the reader's complicity.

* The Judge Reexamined: Rebecca West's Underrated Gothic Romance (1988)

Monday, June 15, 2015

the golf club

The experience that I am circling around as I go over The Glass Canoe is a remote irreducible tickling, the idea that that Ireland senses the possibility of a calm stillness and believes that the things of this world are either taking us towards that point or away from it, whereas Crowley by contrast perceives a net, without that poised, central, gladelike place.

No, you say, that's not a tickling, it's bloody obvious: look at the Meatman when he thinks about the scenery at the golf club. But I believe that the concentration of the still place in those clear and physical phenomena, the sunshine and the grass, and the mowing, is not that place itself, it is too outwards, too specific, and it's doing double duty, it is telling us that the Meatman is a sensitive person – it is sketching and dumping it in very crudely.

He likes dew! – well – there must be more to him than drinking at the pub – the book insists.

It's a defensive blow against the reader who wants to call him a yob.

The pub is a parody of that calm place or another species of it, a deformed species; the men are not calm so much as paralysed, and the fights are like spasms against the restraint of that paralysis.

The calm place exists somewhere outside the prose, and outside anything that is in the prose, and the noise of writing in this book exists in order to highlight a particular silence.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

you'll see what I say you'll see

Having, now, The Glass Canoe next to Little, Big in my mind I wonder about the different ways in which the two authors find a character or structure for the Unknown in their books, Crowley building a kind of horizontal (rather than hierarchical) maze in which a revelation in one story will lead you sideways to another story – not a clarity through the unknown but a passageway into another room of it. Mrs Underhill says "Wear this," as she sticks a magic leaf on Lilac's forehead but the enlargement is only in a certain direction, "and you'll see what I say you'll see." By implication, what I don't say you won't see, and who knows what size that is. The dream that seems to be taking Grandfather Trout into a memory of his original human self turns, instead, towards the story of (maybe) the Frog Prince, disenchanted, leaping from the water, "legs flailing and royal robes drenched," then to the Fish-Footman from the first Alice, a "bewigged fish in a high-collared coat, a huge letter under his arm" – till the trout wakes, in shock, back to his own edition of the tale. *

Irrevocable revelation in the Glass Canoe, however, is not only achievable, it is horribly forced on you, and you will be catapaulted into the misery of knowledge against your will when you point out the anthropomorphic mystery of the record player to your girlfriend and she easily shows you the knob that explains the technology.

The Meatman, who loved not knowing, is troubled by the new absence of his pet ignorance, and the information is not an addition to his mental landscape, it is a loss forever. He laments.

Binarily he shifts over into that knowledge as if through a door that shuts behind him. And there are other such doors in the book, but he avoids them: he won't look in the sealed barrel, and he won't draw the obvious conclusion when he sees his girlfriend in the window with several men. The knowledge is being offered so starkly; Crowley's people should envy him. But it would mean sadness if he took it (we know that from the record player episode), and sadness with no compensation that the reader is ever allowed to see. He is wiser than Victor Frankenstein; instinctively he has resisted (or shied away from, take your pick) temptation, he is aligned with those books and authors who have worried about the effect that technical knowingness, ie science, will have on the state of knowledge-less anticipation that is described with words like wonderment. Lord Dunsany wrote with a feather pen in the age of biros.

When I think that we, as a species, have only just become aware of the lymph vessels that run up into our brains, and that this discovery is not the end of anything (as the discovery of the lymph system itself was not the end of anything, and the mapping of it, falsely wholly, over a century ago, was not the end of mapping it or knowing it), I want to believe that, out of the two of them, Crowley's formulation of the Unknown as story beyond story is closer to what is

*After I posted this I went over and read, for the first time, the post from June 4th at Wuthering Expectations, which also mentions the Alice Footman. Coincidence.

Alice never knows whether she is looking at a fish or a man: "she considered him to be a footman because he was in livery: otherwise, judging by his face only, she would have called him a fish." Carroll's illustrators are always sure that he is a fish-headed person but this is more than you can say for the author, who only ever refers to a resemblance in the face. And the way he has packed man into footman is very strange: if the person had been naked, without the livery, but still running up to a door with a letter under his arm, then what would Alice call him?