Saturday, January 24, 2015

without some legitimate cause

In conclusion (tapping pages on the podium and licking my thumb), Knut Hamsun is ambiguous, and I like Geoffrey Hill when he says

... glowery is a mighty word with two meanings
if you crave ambiguity in plain speaking
as I do.

Hamsun is a plain word; he tells you he's plain, and so this is part of his ambiguity, the plainness, while Hill plains you with these puns or rhymes so daggy that I'm consternated, writing

Spot on

in Clavics and what is this, you wonder: John Skelton?

Then I stop feeling consternated because I believe that it is indeed John Skelton, revenant with influence.

Now that I have read Best European Fiction 2010 as well as Knut Hamsun I have decided that a writer should always be a bit stupid or not-knowing of themselves, the way that Gertrude Stein advises in Paris France, because the writers in Fiction all seem to know who they are and what they're doing, they write wittily in vignettes or they write towards a clear end (the teenage prostitute is going to go from disaster to disaster in that one story and you know it); they might surprise yourself but not themselves. It was so eerie that I fell into a melancholy and thought, "How can these authors be alive?"

I was so riveted or spelled that I read the whole book slowly in that dreary mood.

There was a mismatch between myself and these writers who were proceeding absolutely smartly or knowingly to the end of the story, but there is also a mismatch between themselves and Ruskin, who was not calm in what he knew; he will stand there in public and sound bewildered even while he is telling you what's what; he will still behave raggedly if it seems true to him to do so; on one hand he is trying to persuade you, and he wants it forcefully, but on the other hand it is not right not to acknowledge his puzzlement; he sees that he is not completely correct and he will not gloss over it, he must say it; he won't pretend.

I can understand, in some sort, why people admire everything else in old art, why they admire Salvator's rocks, and Claude's foregrounds, and Hobbima's trees, and Paul Potter's cattle, and Jan Steen's pans; and while I can perceive in all these likings a root which seems right and legitimate, and to be appealed to; yet when I find they can even endure the sight of a Backhuysen on their room walls (I speak seriously) it makes me hopeless at once. I may be wrong, or they may be wrong, but at least I can conceive of no principle or opinion common between us, which either can address or understand in the other; and yet I am wrong in this want of conception, for I know that Turner once liked Vandevelde, and I can trace the evil influence of Vandevelde on most of his early sea painting, but Turner certainly could not have liked Vandevelde without some legitimate cause.

(Modern Painters)

It would have been easier to pretend that his hatred for Dutch seascape painters was only mild, and to have pushed the difficulty away like that, and to have looked serene at the end instead of puzzled (it's probably what I would have done. I am a coward), but instead he insists that people who like Dutch seascape painters are a mob of loons, which is a good thing for him to say because it will leave everything disturbed and unsettled. Turner likes them, he likes Turner, what can he do? "There is another man within mee that's angry with mee, rebukes, commands, and dastards mee," says Thomas Browne.


  1. "and yet I am wrong" - this is practically my motto.

    This is a fine conclusion, whatever that means. "a writer should always be a bit stupid or not-knowing of themselves" - I should put that on Twitter, for all the good that does.

  2. If Ruskin didn't have that then he'd just be the "beauties."